How to Be Active at Any Size

You can get moving, no matter what your weight.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD

When you've been sedentary and have a lot of weight to lose, starting an exercise program can seem like a near-impossible goal.

Large folks face some unique challenges when they're trying to be active, ranging from limitations in their movement to finding clothes and equipment for exercising.

Yet the road to a healthier lifestyle must include some kind of physical activity along with a healthy eating plan. It's possible to lose weight by diet alone, but far from ideal. And research shows that people who've managed to lose large amounts of weight and kept it off tend to be regular exercisers.

The answer is to think of these challenges as hurdles, not roadblocks. And remember, the first step is always the hardest.

It's also important to find activities that work for you. You don't need to run marathons to gain the health benefits of physical activity! All you need to do is start moving, and gradually your fitness level will improve. As you lose weight, you'll be able to do more each day.

So take baby steps, and keep in mind that every little bit helps. Most people never regret getting physical activity, but they do regret it when they don't.

Benefits of Fitness

There is no question that regular physical activity is good for you and makes you feel better. Not only does it help you burn calories to lose weight, it reduces the risk of conditions like heart disease, stroke, blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

Physical activity improves your strength, muscles, bones, and coordination. It improves your quality of life, making it easier to do simple things like walking up a flight of stairs, tying your shoes, or sleeping. Exercise also has many psychological benefits: It helps you feel better about yourself, improves your mood, and allows you to better cope with stress.

Still not convinced? Research shows that the least fit individuals gain the greatest benefits when they improve their fitness levels.

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health, especially if you are sedentary.

Activities for Any Size

Walking is one of the best, and simplest, weight-bearing activities you can do. Dancing is an alternate form of walking that kicks it up a notch. Some good non-weight-bearing activities include water aerobics, swimming, riding a stationary bike, lifting hand weights, and doing stretching exercises. And don't discount activities such as house cleaning, gardening, and washing the car, all of which qualify as physical activity. Whatever activity you choose, go slowly, and start by warming up your muscles with simple movements such as marching in place and swinging your arms.

Here are 10 simple tips to help get you going:
1. Attitude is everything: "I think I can, I think I can." Believe in yourself, and know that every little bit will add up to big results over time.
2. Set realistic goals. Start by walking 5-10 minutes a few times per week, then build on your success.
3. Don't think all activity has to take the form of an actual workout. Move more whenever you can. One of our members works more steps into her routine by pacing while she waits for the microwave.
4. If you can tolerate weight-bearing activity, strap on a pedometer and leave it on throughout the day. Strive to take more steps each day.
5. Schedule mini-breaks of 10-15 minutes of physical activity throughout the day.
6. Only do as much as you can handle comfortably. If you have physical limitations, check with your doctor before starting any fitness routine.
7. Try different movements and activities to find things you enjoy.
8. Turn on some tunes. Listening to music can get you going.
9. Enlist the support of a buddy. Being active is always more fun with a friend.
10. Track your activity progress in the notes section of your journal.

No matter what fitness level, feel good about yourself and what you are able to do now. Don't beat yourself up if you cannot do a certain activity, just try again next time -- and be proud of yourself for trying!

Now, brush off that exercise bike gathering cobwebs in the basement and make a commitment to increase your activity level, even if it's only a few minutes a day. Make physical fitness part of your daily routine. And don't forget to have some fun!

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