Written by Stacy Schmidt, M.S.
Obesity is a significant health problem in the United States, affecting close to one-third of all adults. Although genetics can play a role in the likelihood that a person will become obese, the condition occurs when the amount of calories consumed exceeds the amount of calories expended over a long period of time. Excess calories are stored as fat in the body, and with long-term caloric excess, an individual eventually becomes obese. Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet are ways in which to combat obesity.
Benefits of Regular Exercise
Regular exercise (and proper nutrition) can help reduce body fat as well as protect against chronic diseases associated with obesity. If you are looking for a reason to start an exercise program, listed below are five of the many benefits of regular physical activity.
Exercise lowers risk for chronic diseases Concerned about heart disease? Regular exercise is a proven way to decrease risk for these and other chronic diseases. It will help to prevent or manage high blood pressure. It also raises high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as the “good” cholesterol, and lowers low density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. This combination will decrease the amount of harmful plaques that can buildup on your artery walls and keep blood flowing smoothly. Regular exercise can also help prevent type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain cancers.
Exercise improves your mood
Feeling a little edgy? A quick workout will help calm you down! Exercise stimulates chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy and relaxed. It also makes you feel better about yourself and helps reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
Exercise helps manage weight
It’s a no-brainer. Exercise burns calories. The more you exercise, the easier it is to keep your weight under control. But remember that exercise is not a free pass to eat everything in sight! To burn 100 calories, most people need to walk or run about one mile. And one little chocolate M&M candy contains the amount of calories it would take to run or walk the length of a football field! So be sure not to overestimate the amount of calories you’re burning.
Exercise promotes better sleep
Having a hard time falling and staying asleep? A good night’s sleep can improve your concentration and productivity throughout the day, and exercise might be the key to getting better sleep. It can help you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper.
Exercise can be FUN
Tired of spending your Saturday afternoons watching TV or doing laundry? Looking for an activity that the whole family can enjoy? Get moving! Exercise doesn’t have to be grueling. Take a dancing class, push your kids on the swing, or try something new. Find an activity you enjoy, and have fun with it!
Starting an Exercise Program
For obese persons, the focus of the exercise program should be based on low-intensity aerobic activity with progressively increasing duration. Aerobic exercise provides overall health benefits, including fat loss, an increase in daily energy levels, and reduced risk of health problems. At the beginning of the program, the frequency and duration of the activity is more important than the intensity. Aim for exercising four or five days a week for 30 to 60 minutes. If you were previously sedentary, these sessions can be broken up into three 10-minute sessions, with gradual increases in duration.
In addition to aerobic activity, resistance or weight training can also provide some benefits to overall health. Not only does weight training make you stronger, but it also raises your muscle-to-fat ratio, which increases the amount of calories you burn at rest.
Despite all your inclinations to monitor your weight on the bathroom scale, try to resist focusing on weight loss. The body has a tendency to gain muscle or lean weight initially, so although your body is benefiting from the exercise, the pounds might not drop off right away. Focus on the quality and quantity of the exercise instead.
- Engage in activity that puts minimal stress on the joints, such as walking, swimming or water exercises, and cycling.
- Ease into your workout. Start slowly for the first five minutes to give your body time to adjust to the activity.
- Work at a comfortable pace that allows you to talk without too much difficulty.
- Focus on increasing duration first, then increasing intensity.
- Slow down for the last five minutes to allow your body to ease back into its resting state
- Finish with stretching exercises.
- It is important to gradually increase the duration and intensity of the exercises, while understanding that you will have to build up to longer and more strenuous workouts.
- Jogging can cause stress on the knees and joints and is generally not recommended for the obese because of risk for injury. Instead, stick to lower impact aerobic activities until you are in better shape.
- Obese people should be especially careful about heat exhaustion given that they are less able to adapt to temperature changes. Wearing light clothing will allow for better heat exchange while exercising.
- Hydration is very important for the obese, since they are susceptible to dehydration. Be sure to drink fluids frequently before, during, and after exercise.
- Slow down or stop if you experience chest pains, shortness of breath, palpitations, nausea, pain in the neck or jaw, or major muscle or joint pain.
Integrate physical activity into daily activity:
- Take the stairs.
- Park farther from the door.
- Take a short walk at lunch.
- Turn off the TV.
- Take walk breaks from work.
- Wear a pedometer for monitoring your activity.
People don’t just have time to exercise…they MAKE time to exercise. Be in control of your life. Make exercise a part of your day, everyday!
View the full spring 2008 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page online.