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Think You’re Just Too Heavy to Exercise? – Think Again

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There are so many people out there who think they are just too big to exercise. Think again because simply, you’re not. You too can move your body. 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. I am currently training individuals weighing in at 400-500+ pounds, and all of them will tell you how hard this is but how much fun it can be too.

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.

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 were 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. Here are a few examples of what you may be able to do:

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.

You can take a water aerobics class and/or do your walking in a swimming pool (with plenty of other people who aren’t exactly fond of wearing swimsuits), or you can use a walker.

The main idea is to start where you are right now, and adapt exercises to your needs and capacities, instead of trying (and often failing) to use exercises that aren’t right for you at this stage. You’ll find that plenty of very effective alternatives to traditional exercises are already available.

But, if the necessity of starting something you don’t really want to do is the bad news, there is a lot more good news here. Your body will start responding positively to exercise—very quickly. That two minutes you can do on the elliptical machine today will probably turn into 10 minutes in a couple weeks, and 20 minutes within a couple of months. The 100 calories you burned will become 300 just as quickly, with more to come. 
You don’t have to work super hard to get the results you’re looking for. One of the primary ways your body adapts to exercise is by doing the same exercise, but using less effort and energy. This means that working at a desirable level of intensity will very quickly start feeling easier even though you are actually doing more work than when you first started. In technical terms, this is called “getting in shape,” which you’ve probably heard of and maybe even experienced once or twice yourself. The first few times you elevate your heart rate where it needs to be, you may feel like this is more than you can or want to endure on a regular basis. But that doesn’t matter, simply because that’s not what you have to do. 
As you read this, you’re only a few exercise sessions away from being able to work out comfortably at the moderate level of aerobic exercise required to burn significant amounts of fat, reduce many risk factors for cardiovascular disease and produce positive brain-chemistry changes for your emotional and physical well-being. The heavier you are, the more calories you will burn. Now is the time to take advantage of one of the few perks that come with having some extra pounds to move around.

Keep a “Before-During-After” Exercise Journal
This is a very simple and basic journal, in which you keep track of three things for each of your exercise sessions:

  1. How you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, as you are getting ready for your exercise session. Write down any thoughts you’re having about working out—especially negative ones. If you decide to skip exercise, make sure you write that, along with the reason, and how you feel about your decision. This doesn’t need to be any more complicated than simply noting factual observations. DON’T try to psychoanalyze yourself or lecture yourself about what you did wrong.
  2. Describe exactly what you did during your workout: time spent, activity, distance/amount, heart rate, how you felt physically at the beginning, during, and after the session—again, just the simple facts.
  3. Note any changes or improvements from your last session. Did you walk further or longer? Did swimming feel easier or harder? Were you more or less tired, sore or strong? Did the session leave you feeling positive, invigorated, and glad you did it—or do you wish you had listened to that little voice telling you to stay on the couch?

Once every week (or as often as you find helpful), spend some time looking over your recent journal entries. Check your physical progress, look for patterns in your physical, emotional, and psychological responses to the exercise, and try to draw some conclusions for yourself, based on your recorded experience. 

This journal can do several very important things for you. It can help you make sure you’re exercising safely and at an effective level of intensity. If you’re always sore, rarely feel invigorated and refreshed; or if you aren’t improving regularly, or experiencing any mental or emotional benefits, you’re probably either working too hard or not hard enough, and need to adjust things accordingly. You can use your journal to track and compare your adjustments to see what actually works for you. 

And most importantly, you’re creating something you can turn to over and over again when you aren’t feeling motivated to exercise. All the expert advice and theory in the world can’t convince you of the benefits of exercising the way your own testimony can. So, next time you don’t feel like exercising, just pull out your journal and let yourself be persuaded by your favorite expert—yourself.

Above all, don’t make it easy to talk yourself out of starting an exercise program by getting confused about the difference between a challenge and an insurmountable obstacle. Those undefeatable obstacles are really pretty few and far between and not so hard to work around—if you want it to be that way. DON’T Give Up. You’re worth it.

Submitted by Linda L. Nenninger, Certified Personal Trainer, World Instructor Training Schools and Idea Health and Fitness Member. For more information, contact or visit