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.
    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

  • 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
  • SHINEONYOU
    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
  • MLEHTO
    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
  • NADMAL1
    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 us...so 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 heavy..do 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 lot...you don't loose..you actually gain !
    - 9/16/2013 3:20:09 PM
  • CAROLINENK1
    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
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