Fitness Articles

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

Getting Off To a Good Start


Priority #1: Safety

Problem: One of the biggest mistakes people commit is making assumptions about what they can’t do without checking with someone who knows how to determine that. You may have physical problems, ranging from medical conditions that impose unavoidable limitations on what you can do, to the typical after-effects of years of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, such as chronic inflexibility, weakness, and muscle pain. These problems may rule out one kind of exercise or another. But it would be unusual if there is truly nothing you can do. The first step here is to sort out what really can’t be done (or changed) from what can. That begins with a visit to the doctor, to get a medically approved exercise prescription, telling you what you can and can’t do.

Solution: Don’t be one of those people. Tell your doctor you want to start exercising and ask for advice on what to do and what to avoid. Many doctors aren’t trained in exercise science, so if the advice you get is too vague or general to be helpful to you, go see a certified personal trainer (or ask for help on the SparkPeople Message Boards) to get a fitness plan that you can take back to your doctor for approval or modification. Between these two sources, you should get ideas to start safely.

Priority #2: Find Something That Fits YOU

Problem: You just can’t seem to find a good place to start. You’ve checked out the exercises in the Resource Center, but you don’t see many that suit you—if you get down on the floor, you may not be able to get up again by yourself (been there, done that), and your body just doesn’t bend or let you get into the positions illustrated. You’ve been to the gym, but you don’t even fit into half the machines there, and you felt like you were going to throw up after two minutes on the elliptical machine. To make things worse, all those young hard bodies in their little spandex clothes make you feel like you’re from another planet—and who the heck thought it was a good idea to put those stupid mirrors everywhere?! You’ve tried walking around the neighborhood, but you had to quit after a couple of minutes because your feet were sore or you got cramps in your legs…

Solution: Almost every exercise can be modified so you can do it (or something like it) in a way that meets your needs and present capacities. For example:
  • Chair exercises allow you to do many strength and stretching exercises that otherwise would have to be done on the floor or standing. This allows you to get through a whole routine that would have left you exhausted or worse if you were standing up the whole time.
    Continued ›
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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

  • I forgot to mention that I recently joined the Y and am starting water aroebics class next week (pools are closed now for cleaning. - 8/30/2015 11:17:41 AM
  • OMG! This article and everyone's stories is just what I needed today. Im 51 and still in shock with the whole menopause process. I have never been 300 lbs ever but yet, here I am. I am in complete shock. In my mind Im 25! Anyway exercise, walking and almost everything has become a challenge. I have sciatica (a new development I acquired back in February), heel spurs and bad knees. What drew me to this article is that everybody and their mama has been telling me about water aroebics. My God it, must be the answer to my prayers. Like a commenter said, I havs to put my pride aside as I am NOT happy about wearing a bathing suit in public. Thx everyone for inspiring me! - 8/30/2015 11:15:44 AM
    Great article. I'm recovering from back surgery that left me with temporary nerve damage in my leg and was using a walker. I have graduated to a cane and I'm improving every day. I may me be able to run a marathon yet, but there was many things I can do. Doing exercises in the pool levels the playing field and I'm finding my recovery goes better the more I do. - 6/27/2015 6:41:03 PM
  • I weighed more than 300 pounds for more than half my life. It took a time when I could hardly move anymore that I finally said something needs to be done. I didn't even like sitting exercises, because the exercises made the strongest of chairs wibble and wobble.

    Then I found a pool that was size friendly. It wouldn't have mattered if they were size friendly or not, I could not wait any longer. Thank goodness the pool I found -- 20 miles from my home so that I had less chance of running into people I know -- had excellent water aerobics instructors AND size-friendly patrons.

    I urge all of you to get rid of your pride. If I can do it, you can, too. Walk in with a walker, whatever, but for heaven's sake, give it a try. And go back the second day and third day. And the next week. And the week after that.

    I have lost 60 pounds in that time.

    And I have to say that after I had been at the pool regularly (at least four times a week) that I was extremely fortunate. I had to have five surgeries on my one. knee. if I had not been doing those exercises, I don't know what would have happened. I would probably have had to move to a nursing home.

    I think I've had the fifth, and last, surgery. I cannot wait for the wound to heal so I can get back to the pool.

    That movement made all the difference in my life. - 6/3/2015 8:08:35 PM
    This artical inspired me a lot. I have lost 1 kg and again stopped loosing. I change my exersice daily and can not stick to one. But I'm glad there is some flaxibility has come in my body. By the way thanks for the artical. - 2/25/2015 6:30:31 PM
  • FERGIE310
    Best article I have read! I feel almost scared to exercise... My limits... Almost handicapped. It is hard to admit.. To family and even friends! I know I have to overcome this somehow. I am way to overweight and would like to enjoy my grandchild a little more. Not to mention my husband. Feeling a little overwhelmed!!! - 2/5/2015 11:48:26 AM
    I had a big fear of joining a gym but really needed to. I ended up looking at every gym out there and even some that I didn't know existed. I ended up finding a gym that is part of a rehabilitation center. It is very quiet and most members are recovering from health issues. But, they opened up the gym room to outside members for a low fee. I also found that some local hotels will let people pay to use their gyms. My point is, if you find somewhere you are comfortable you will tend to go a lot more often. Before this I belonged to a gym that I hardly went to because the members seemed to be on speed. Running in the door, out the door, into classes. I was the the slowest person in the gym and it made me uncomfortable.

    I had to start at the gym very slowly. I mean like walking on the treadmill for 10 minutes. Then doing some weights and back on the treadmill or bike for 10 minutes. But, those 30 minutes 3-4times per week really built me up to increase my activity.

    I am now at the point of training for a 5k. After about 8 months at the gym I was getting frustrated that I was not losing weight. I ended up joining weight watchers to go along with the gym. I have continued to lose very little weight over each month but the important thing is that I am losing. I have metabolic syndrome so I assume that is why the weight is coming off so slooow.

    But, if it takes me another year or two I am fine as long as I reach my goal.

    So my tips are:

    Go on yelp and find all the gyms in your areas. Look at the reviews. Call hotels and rehab. centers to see if they will let you use their gym.

    If you start off small and build yourself as you go you will not quit. Just going is helpful. Push yourself a little bit more everytime.

    Weight watchers will help with weight loss and what foods to eat.

    Don't give up even when the scale does not show big losses. This is what I see: 5 pounds down. then 8 pounds up depending on the time of the month, then 3 pounds down but at the end of a couple months at least a couple pounds ... - 1/29/2015 3:18:32 PM
    I feel very inspired by the great article and reading what others have accomplished. I will make a list of things I CAN do and start today. I was reminded of Arthur Ashe's quote, "Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can." Looking forward to articles part 2 & 3, - 1/8/2015 10:44:25 AM
    Today is #1 for me. (seems like I have said that a lot) but it is. I mean it this time. I need people to hold me accountable. I need a kick in the ass to get going, because quite honestly I am just lazy, and it hurts when I walk, having surgerys and many accidents make it very painful for me to move. but I do believe getting some weight off will make a world of difference for me. I am excited. and Spark people so far seems like an amazing place to start!!! - 12/14/2014 2:48:24 PM
  • I am considered obese, and that just pisses me off. I ride almost daily and have been pretty active for the past few years. That being said, I love to ride in cute clothes, dresses and boots, or heels. It makes me feel better, it makes me feel cute and that is a huge confidence boost. Most clothing for exercise does not make most of us feel cute!

    Every so often I see a large person on a bike and it makes me smile inside! You go girl, be proud and ride on! I would rather see larger people out on bikes than not! I think body shaming is a crime to humanity. We all come in different sizes, we all belong, we just need to find a way to be comfortable while we work at creating a better you. So put on those cute clothes and go have fun. One day all that worry will seem like a distant memory.

    I am still obese, but I am healthy according to my doctor and that means I am happy with myself. Sure I want to lose more weight, but I am not going to put my life on hold until I reach a goal. - 12/3/2014 10:13:18 PM
  • Although this is posted long after the article was written, I would like to add that some of us in the disabled employees group at work decided to take on the annual President's fitness challenge. Our conditions ranged from not visible (many disabilities are not visible but are there all the same) to obvious (our wheelchair marathoner having one of them). Over time that program began to add in credits for activities such as his, but we didn't wait.

    One of our members, a user of a wheelchair, carried firewood to his house as one of his activities.

    One of our members who has MS and a visual impairment that limits his ability to drive pumps iron and rides a bicycle (or walks!) 2 miles to work.

    One of our members who uses a back brace rides horseback.

    One of our members who has seizures used yoga and running in place as "safe" exercises.

    One of our members used the book "Move without Pain" (Alexander technique and based on Feldenkrais movement therapies, which was designed to assist people with post polio syndrome) to deal with flexibility.

    We adapted activities as needed, put in the hours, and since our employer couldn't, I personally bought the medals (hey, not all that expensive, maybe $80 all told) for the group members.

    With advice and counsel and adaptive creativity - yes... anyone can get a little better and a little better - honest! I am now the queen of barn pen cleaning and can climb over a fence - things I couldn't do after being knocked around in the crosswalk by a car one night.

    Keep on choosin'! - 9/11/2014 1:38:13 PM
  • this comment is for ShineOnYou- do not be embarrassed about your size while exercising. Most people are proud of you for trying and doing something. The others don't count. Keep on d o i n g.
    - 9/11/2014 1:01:32 PM
  • 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

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