Fitness Articles

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

Getting Off To a Good Start

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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.
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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

  • 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
  • EMPORTER
    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
  • LONGLIFE7
    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
  • 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

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