Fitness Articles

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

Getting Off To a Good Start

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

  • This. I have severe nerve damage in my right foot, and I have a hard time walking more than a few steps. Because of this, I managed to gain back the 30 or so pounds I'd lost in college, and spent years making excuses for why I couldn't exercise. I feel lucky that I'm able to get down on the floor without worrying about not being able to get up. Mostly I do pushups/situps/ch
    air exercises, but I've found that swimming (which I don't get to do often because I don't have a pool or anywhere to go) and the exercise bike don't hurt my foot that badly, so I've been enjoying doing those. It's nice knowing there's things I can still do. - 7/14/2014 6:00:00 PM
  • When I can't get out, I try to do Nicole's Chair Exercises followed by Qi Gong. Looks easy but surprising how tired I am after doing them.
    Great article, Dean!!! - 6/24/2014 10:17:05 PM
    I worried that I was too fat to exercise -- when I started spinning classes, I wanted to die. I could barely do the standing climbs/jogs. Some days I didn't even try. Other days, I tried ONCE for two seconds and gave up.

    I'm still not as strong as the other riders, but every time we 'climb', I join in -- even if it's only for a minute. I think sometimes we're too hard on ourselves! - 6/22/2014 1:17:36 PM
  • Well written, and I love, love, love the picture. I want to see more large people looking fantastic in SparkPeople's pictorial advertisements, especially the accompaniments to articles that we read on the start page. Go large people!! We need the message that large can be beautiful. - 5/1/2014 6:58:26 AM
  • This article gave me the encouragement I needed to get started with some kind of exercise. It listed all the excuses I have been using and the hope that I. too, can do some kind of exercise. My silver sneakers program pays for water exercises but I use the excuse that I don't feel comfortable being seen in my bathing suit. This is my first day with Spark People and hope this site will give me the support I need. - 3/18/2014 4:47:43 AM
  • This article is just what I needed to read. I'm 65, and due to ankle problems (that will require surgery later this year) I can't walk very much. But I'm convinced that I can find other ways to exercise. - 2/1/2014 8:45:26 AM
  • Love this article! I exercised regularly when I was almost double my present size. - 1/30/2014 6:20:51 AM
    Thanks for posting this article. I have found that working with a knowledgeable personal trainer is helpful if only for a few sessions. Particularly if you get one that really listens to what you want to accomplish. Whenever I start with a new trainer, if he or she doesn't ask about any injuries or what I've been doing as far as fitness, that is the last session I have with that trainer. It's not worth my health! - 11/18/2013 3:17:53 PM
    Good article! Esp. about these are the same challenges that stand between you and the life that you want for yourself."
    To the person with COPD.... you want to work on walking the treadmill/or outside and cycling on an exercise bike to build up the strength so that your lungs are functioning efficiently! See if you have a COPD out patient program in your neighborhood. Good job on walking! - 10/11/2013 11:42:59 PM
  • Very good article! As you all said, can't wait for part 2 & 3. The article was full of common sense, things you didn't know you knew. Common sense and balance are what is called for. - 10/4/2013 10:08:23 AM
  • good article. - 9/18/2013 8:03:38 AM
  • WTG - Fiddlemom - You are so completely right! They love to talk about how easy it would be to do something, even when you are overweight -BUT they use 20 something, young, fit, even super thin, flexible people..who can curl up in a ball and lock their legs behind their neck and not break a sweat , to demonstrate their exercises.
    Show us someone like that we can see that if they can do it, so can we.
    And while you are at it, to make it more believable..don't add someone who , even though they they are not have other handicaps.
    Give us someone who has "severe" arthritis (not just a twinge) all through their body...who are lucky they can "walk" from one room to the next without screaming from the pain..whose lungs will allow them to go the distance...who's hands die to be able to weights in them, of any kind, whose arms are able to be raised above the head or even shoulder height, to do anything....I can go on and on with all the requirements that will be needed !
    Give us someone like that...then may we can talk about trying your exercises !

    Also, why do weight loss groups...even this one..assume automatically that because you are overweight, you stuff your mouth all the time??? That is really irritating !!!!
    I DON'T... I never did and I know there has to be others out there who don't either.
    I stopped recording what I eat with your computer thing on here, because I got tired of getting told by it that I DON'T eat enough. They tell you to reduce the amount of food that you eat to loose weight...yet when you naturally don't eat a don't actually gain !
    - 9/16/2013 3:20:09 PM
    This is in response to JUDE262. I am 71, 5'0" and weigh 158 lbs. I have had both knees replaced, had breast cancer (although way back in 1988) and currently have congestive heart failure as well as arthritis and asthma. I'm still doing stretching exercises for my last knee replacement and walk my dog once a day for 30 minutes. I live in a hilly area of my town but the walk isn't too cardiovascular as my dog walks, stops, sniffs, pees or poops, walks, stops, sniffs, pees or poops for the whole 30 minutes. I have a treadmill and stationary bicycle as well as 2 lb weights. My plan is to start using these at a very low level for very short periods of time and increase my repetitions, time, speed and incline as the spirit moves me. I'm not sure I'll get beyond 10 minutes as I'm not supposed to get out of breath but I think it's better than nothing. - 9/14/2013 12:19:57 PM
  • Have you ever heard of Silver Sneakers? Its an exercise program for seniors at many gyms. Some health insurance policies pay for it, and sometimes you have to pay, but either way, its very worthwhile. - 9/12/2013 1:38:15 PM
  • Anytime you consider a personal trainer, you must check into their credentials. Don't go to a big name gym and assume that their PTs have credentials. There are many trainers out there that took an online course and paid a little fee to be able to declare themselves credentialed.
    These people are not going to help you. In fact, they'll likely hurt you, as they don't know about different body types, and how to modify for people because they usually only work with people that are exactly like themselves.
    Make sure you ask for their credentials, then verify those credentials yourself to make certain they are actually trained, and not just a glorified fitness pal. - 9/12/2013 1:09:04 PM
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