Fitness Articles

Think You're Too Heavy to Exercise? - Part 1

Getting Off To a Good Start

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I’m not going to sugarcoat things here, or tell you that starting and sticking to an effective exercise plan will be easy or fun. The fact is that if you’re very overweight and out of shape, you’re likely going to face some obstacles—both physically and mentally—that will challenge you in every possible way.

But I can tell you this: These obstacles are not just obstacles to exercise—they are the same challenges that stand between you and the life you want for yourself. If you can find a way to meet these challenges head-on now, by being successful at making exercise a part of your daily life, you’ll have self-management skills and the confidence you need to handle just about anything else life might throw at you. Exercise can help you shed pounds, and a lot of other unwanted baggage as well.

Sounds pretty dramatic, considering we’re just talking about exercise, doesn’t it? But it’s true—at least it was for me.

Trying to get myself off my 370-pound backside and into motion brought me face-to-face with all the parts of myself that had helped me get into the mess I was in: the part that had become an expert in excuse-making, procrastination, and rationalization; the part that relied on food and eating to manage feelings; the part that was afraid of what other people might think about me; the part of me that didn’t think I had what it took to lose weight (or do much of anything else); the part of me that was terrified of what might happen if I actually succeeded and no longer had my physical limitations to use as an excuse for avoiding intimate relationships, challenging work, and other anxiety-provoking situations; and yes, even the part that just plain liked sitting on the couch with a bag of chips a lot more than all the huffing and puffing and discomfort of exercise.

After years of yo-yo dieting, years of studying philosophy and psychology in graduate school to figure out what made me tick, and after trying one “miracle cure” after another, my own path beyond all these obstacles started with a very slow (and pretty painful) walk around the block. Go figure.

So, let’s talk about some of the challenges you might face, and how to handle them. This is the first in a three-part series, and we’ll focus here on getting off to a safe yet effective start. (Part 2 will offer you some tips for building and maintaining both your motivation and your progress, and Part 3 will focus on some special goal-setting and problem-solving techniques that can help you get through the toughest days—and have a lot less of them.)
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • MARYG321
    Thank You, just what I needed to read. - 6/13/2016 12:20:00 AM
  • LAB8488
    Just what I needed today. I agree with Dezireme2 from 2015. I am in shock with my weight, bad knees, fibromyalgia and just coming off of rotator cuff surgery. I love the pool, but also needed other exercises. I can't wait to try the chair and other exercise videos here! Thanks so much Spark People - 6/2/2016 12:06:04 PM
  • When I started my weight loss journey I was 333 lbs. We have a city park with benches all around it and walking trails. I would drive to the park and then walk from bench to bench. At each one I had to sit and rest because my knees hurt. Eventually I could make it to every other bench, then every third bench. Eventually I could make it section by section until one day I made it the 3/4 of a mile with out having to rest.

    I chose this because exercising in the house made it to easy to not push myself.

    I now do many types of exercise as long as running or jumping isn't involved. My knees are still bad but I'm able to do a lot more.

    So don't ever believe you are to heavy to exercise. There is always something you can do. - 3/10/2016 12:45:13 PM
  • Another source if the doctor isn't much help is to ask for a referral to a physical therapist, which will often be covered, at least partially, by insurance. They should be able to give you some exercises that you CAN do. - 3/6/2016 7:13:16 PM
  • I know I'm not the typical person for whom this article is meant, but I just wanted to add that I LOVE the spark chair exercise videos and find them very valuable to focus on a particular muscle group. I just finished chair yoga, something I do regularly. Focus on what you can do not what you can't regardless of age or current fitness condition. Small gradual improvement adds up. - 3/6/2016 3:25:43 PM
  • Excellent article, thank you being a website that recognizes everyone is capable of *some* activitiy. - 3/6/2016 1:37:54 PM
    I started personal yoga training with a wonderful teacher at a time when I couldn't get down on the floor. When I finally could, I wasn't able to sit up by myself without leaning against a wall. Now, I am so much more mobile, thanks to her patient help!

    I still can't walk much without intense pain in my feet, so I walk in the house where I can sit down when I need to. It's amazing how many steps I can do that way throughout the day.

    And exercising in the water has been a saving grace for me. There's always SOMETHING we can do. We just have to do it.
    Thanks for a great article. - 3/6/2016 7:42:02 AM
  • I am coming back from an injury that is making it very difficult for me to exercise (physically and psychologically), so I could relate to this article in a lot of ways. My doctor told me that any exercise, no matter how modified, is always - ALWAYS - better than no exercise at all. I'm heavily modifying everything I'm doing right now (and avoiding some things altogether), and it's frustrating to me... but I'm noticing myself getting better, little by little, bit by bit. Slow progress is still progress. :)

    Thanks for this great article! - 3/5/2016 7:45:34 PM
  • I'm 360 lbs and just rode my bicycle 43 miles. - 3/5/2016 4:52:06 PM
    I did water aerobics in my younger days. Not a place here in the little town I live in now. My mom has a bad back and bad knees and arthritis and she loves her water aerobics. It has helped her overall health and strength. She is 72 and about 30lbs over weight. I have started slowly again and this article is right. Just try it one step, one curl, one minute at a time. I'm pushing about 100lbs overweight. Starting with 10 minutes intervals twice a day and going to build from there has my endurance improves.
    - 3/5/2016 3:32:10 PM
  • I loved this article but I could have done without the video ad at the end for Twix bars!! - 2/26/2016 6:16:59 PM

  • Me siento muy reflejada en este artículo. Mi condición de diabética, hipertensa y sobrepeso requieren movimiento físico pero los ejemplos que ponen siempre es de jóvenes entrenadas y en forma. Yo por mi edad y condición tengo mucho miedo por las caminatas y otros tipos de ejercicios.
    Me gustaría ver ejercicios para la tercera edad y para personas muy sedentarias para iniciar una rutina que quite el óxido de mi cuerpo.
    Ayuda, por favor. - 2/11/2016 7:18:42 PM
  • I love this article, every time it I read it I become re-inspired and I know that although I can't do what I was capable of just a few years ago I can do something. I just wish I could easily print the article. I have been creating a notebook with inspiring articles and stories as well as health information and recipes. I don't like using computers for these things since it is easier to go to my organized notes then to try finding something on the computer. - 2/8/2016 7:37:26 AM
  • I hear you, coach Dean. I've started already trying to up my exercise level just by being more active. Now that I've been on here for almost a month, and I've lost a couple pounds I feel more energetic, and I'm going to start by using hand weights and a walker/cane. I can do it! - 2/4/2016 5:59:17 AM
  • I really needed that message. I'm just gonna start with a simple walk around the block - 12/2/2015 10:41:28 PM

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