Exercise For Obese People: 3 Steps to Beginning a Safe Routine

Flickr: Twon

If you carry excess weight, the very thought of working out (especially in front of others) can be totally off-putting.

Whether you just don’t feel comfortable working out in a gym environment, or you physically don’t like the way exercise makes you feel, you just can’t seem to get over those mental barriers.

Truth is, you probably know how important it is that fitness becomes a part of your life… but where do you begin?

No matter what size you are, there is something you can start doing right away, and it doesn’t matter how physically unfit you feel, either.

Not only will a regular exercise routine help you get down to a healthier weight, but exercise also boosts your heart health, your lung capacity, and helps to strengthen your bones, amongst other things.

As I said, knowing exactly where to begin can be a major hindrance, so here are my tips to help you get started today:

1. Light Cardio Exercises

A good starting point is to begin with some very light cardio training. Something like walking, for example.

Even if you are overweight, you will be able to walk around the block once or twice, and this is the perfect way to get moving again.

You may feel like walking slowly is a pointless exercise. But, in the initial days your goal should be to move more than you currently do, so walking, however slow it may feel to you, will help you in the long-run.

If you do experience any knee or back pain when walking, swimming is another option you may want to consider, as it will put much less pressure on your joints.

Simple exercises which you can do in the water include stretching, leg lifts, standing breaststrokes, kicks and light jumps.

I know it can be difficult to get into the water with so many other people around you. However, my guess is that most people will be glad to see you there, working out, and trying to improve your health. Anyone who thinks otherwise, isn’t worth your attention anyway!

2. Basic Weight Training

Bodyweight exercises
To help strengthen your muscles, and whip your metabolism into shape, bodyweight training is a fantastic idea, and it can be done in the comfort of your own home, which is great.

Begin by performing a series of bodyweight squats (hold onto a chair if necessary), lunges, push-ups (on your knees if necessary), and crunches on the floor.

If you can only do five or so before you find yourself out of breath and having to stop – that is fine. Just keep it up, and remember patience is key here.

Aim to perform your bodyweight exercises three times per week, striving to do one more rep with each session that you complete.

Weights and resistance bands
Once you’ve got the hang of bodyweight exercises, you can easily add in some light weights, or resistance bands, to shift things up a gear.

Seated exercises
Seated exercises can be very useful for building basic muscle strength, too.

While sitting in a chair, perform a variety of arm raises, leg lifts, bends, twists, and leans. Although these are very gentle exercises, they will help to build the necessary strength you need for full workouts in the future.

Exercise Ball
Working out using an exercise ball can also be a good idea, helping you improve your balance, stability and abdominal strength.

Try some basic exercises sitting on the ball, such as lifting one foot off the floor, holding, back down again, and then lifting the other foot, and repeating the same on the other side. You could even do this while you watch your favorite TV show, so that you are getting a workout at the same time.

The idea here is to move more than you normally do, gradually building on your strength and endurance each time, and challenging yourself to go that little bit further each time.

3. Maintain Your Comfort

Heart rate
You may also want to consider getting a heart rate monitor, so that you can workout and keep a close eye on how your heart is coping.

This can give you peace of mind that things are okay with your body, and it will help to spur you on as you begin to notice improvements in your levels.

If you find that your heart rate is getting up too high, immediately stop the exercise until it comes back down again. A slight elevation is absolutely fine, and is encouraged, in fact.

But, if it gets too high this has the potential for discomfort, and right now you need to focus on building a positive association with exercise in your mind.

Another way to make sure you are comfortable is to wear suitable clothing and footwear.

This may seem like an insignificant point, but it can make a huge difference to how you feel, and how long your exercise session lasts… nothing kills your motivation to exercise quicker than a pair of poor fitting trainers. I know from experience!

Your workout clothes don’t need to be fancy, just something you feel comfortable and cool wearing.

So, how does exercise make you feel if you are very overweight? Can you share any tips on exercise for obese people?

Read my previous article on the same topic, How to Exercise When You’re Obese.

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy in NZ November 23, 2010 at 9:04 pm

presumably you have checked in with your primary care medical person before anyone, not just those in this category, start exercising – gentle or otherwise.

we would like to see people at the right weight for their height and gender but there might be a very good reason why one can’t be on that level

i am still doing a short sharp dedicated walk, 2wks into my new programme to get my ‘hurry fitness’ at a better level but I am doing well enough to add a few bursts of slow jogging, which is encouraging me to greater flights of ‘fancy’ :-)

this hasn’t been about me losing any weight but because of circumstances in the mid-year I have lost a lot of my ‘hurry fitness’ = running after the bus that is threatening to leave me behind (I don’t have a car!)….


Melanie November 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Hi Cathy,
What is your “hurry fitness”?


Cathy in NZ November 28, 2010 at 4:50 am

My “hurry fitness” is when I have to pick up my normal walking pace because the train/bus is threatening to go without me…

I don’t always dawdle when catching public transport and I never think I am running late but often I somehow am there at the very last minute and I really want to catch ‘it’

Today, I put that “hurry fitness” to the test even though I was sure I wasn’t going to have to…but the train was roaring into the station and I was only just on the escalator. If it had been a 6 carriage train I might not have been so puffed but it was a 4 carriage one. Usually I am still trying to get my breathing back on track right until the next station but today – “better” about 1/2 way to next station so am making progress!

I noticed also that as I hurried along the platform I kept going – usually I start to almost stop – the on-train crew usually start looking ratty at me. If it’s a weekday I will let it go because they are every 15-25mins but on the weekend there is ONE per HOUR! And today I didn’t want to get a bus…for certain traffic reasons.

“Hurry fitness” is sometimes needed for other reasons – to just keep going when the going gets tough.
.-= Cathy in NZ´s last blog ..on target =-.


Melanie December 2, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Sounds like a great plan Cathy. It’s good you are starting to notice you don’t feel so out of breath, too.


Mrs. Life December 17, 2010 at 4:52 am

I know a few friends that are obese and most of them lack self confidence. They suffer not only physically but also emotionally and it’s good to know there are people like you who understand them. Are there different types of exercises for different body types of obese people? How about if he or she is suffering from heart or lung ailment, what’s the best type of exercise will you recommend?


Melanie December 18, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Hi Mrs Life,
Thank you for your comment. I wouldn’t say there are different types of exercise for different body types, but if your friends are inactive at present they would need to begin gently, with something like walking, and build up from there as they become stronger and more confident. Here is another article I’ve written on this, if you haven’t read it already: http://www.dietriffic.com/2010/02/10/obesity-exercise/

Working with a personal trainer for a few sessions is a really great idea too. That way, your friends can get a bit of confidence up, and perhaps get an exercise plan to suit them personally.

Other than that, I’d suggest your friends discuss with their doctor regarding the health conditions you mentioned, in case the doctor recommends any exercise to avoid.


Albert March 21, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Thanks Melanie for this wonderful post. I think that for people, who are used to a sedentary lifestyle, it is crucial to avoid any high-intensity exercises in the beginning. Opt for low-intensity exercises and slowly build your strength and stamina.


BrittanyD June 16, 2011 at 8:49 am

I am a morbidly obese person, and I just started an exercise routine yesterday. We have a recumbent exercise bike and I found that I can use it going a moderate pace for 10 minutes at a time. I can’t walk very much due to extreme lower back spasming/pain and using the bike has not put any strain on my lower back. I’m very excited that I can use it. I was worried about my weight being too much for the bike because I checked the weight limit and I’m well over it, but so far I’ve not broken it HAHA. So maybe obese persons reading this can go to the gym or if possible buy a recumbent bike (after first trying one out) and get exercising that way. I have hope that I can lose weight with Weight Watchers which I just started and using this bike. Good luck all!


Sophia November 12, 2012 at 8:41 am

What would be a safe heart rate for a beginner?


Melanie November 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Hi Sophia, This article will answer your query: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-rate/AN01906


Andy Lyon March 30, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Was this advice written by a thin person I wonder? It is well observed in the first paragraph that overweight and obese people are very uncomfortable being seen exercising publicly in a gym. However, the writer then goes on to suggest swimming as a good initial exercise. Surely a poor body image which prevents a person exercising in a public gym will also prevent a person swimming in a public pool. I am obese, and although I can just about manage visiting my local gym, the thought of walking round in swimming shorts on full view to the world is enough to drive me to the local Chinese take-away!!


Megan S February 6, 2014 at 7:21 pm

In defense of the author, I am a 26 year old women who is 5’6 and 290 lbs. I agree with the author, swimming is of the best options for those trying create a consistent exercise regimen. The buoyancy of the water helps it to be low impact, and the water keeps me cooler when I start to build a sweat and when my body heat rises. The uncomfortable, lack of confidence feeling will remain (at least for myself) no matter where I am exercising; be it the gym, the pool, the beach or even in my home. It’s just a matter of pushing through day by day, minute by minute until I come to love to be active. I would probably guess the same is true for many others as well.


Nadia June 12, 2013 at 10:56 am

I am 20 years old girl with 140 kg body. I often have difficulty to actually exercise considering my weight. how can i start exercising in the right way?


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