Exercising With Obesity

Exercise Considerations For Individuals With Obesity

It is well known that physical activity and exercise are important in preventing, treating, and managing obesity and commonly associated comorbidities. However, being more active is often easier said than done, and this is especially true for those who experience obesity, as there are often many limitations to exercise both physically and mentally. Factors such as muscle and joint pain, low cardiovascular and muscular fitness, multiple comorbidities, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and issues with self-image and confidence in fitness environments are common barriers for individuals with obesity. It is important to consider these factors that might deter individuals from engaging in more physical activity. It should be the goal of any health professional recommending exercise to help reduce barriers as much as possible in order to initiate positive and maintainable lifestyle changes. Behavioral counseling and a team of healthcare professionals are recommended for individuals experiencing obesity and looking to improve their health.

Exercise Recommendations For Individuals With Obesity

In order for adults to achieve health benefits, Obesity Canada and the Canadian Physical Activity guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week and resistance training at least twice a week for all major muscle groups. High-intensity activity can reduce the total amount of time required to achieve the same benefits as moderate to vigorous activity. The more physical activity, the better!

With obesity, one of the most common goals of individuals and their providers is weight loss. Garber (2019) highlights that physical activity in the range of 150 – 250 minutes per week can prevent weight gain and can also result in a modest weight loss, but it seems that volumes of physical activity greater than 250 minutes per week are needed to achieve a clinically significant weight loss. However, this can be a dramatic increase in physical activity for many individuals who experience obesity, and it can seem overwhelming. Below are some tips for how to approach increasing physical activity and lifestyle change for individuals with obesity.

Tips To Increasing Exercise For Individuals With Obesity

1. Seek out an exercise professional.

It can be overwhelming to be told to exercise more and then be left to do so on your own. Seeking out an exercise professional (Weight Management Specialist, Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Certified Personal Trainer, Kinesiologist, Health & Wellness Coach, etc.) for help with developing a plan, overcoming barriers, modifying to limitations, and help with accountability can significantly increase the likeliness of achieving your goals.

2. Goal setting (SMART goals).

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Taking the time to set goals using this method helps to translate ideas into action and increases the probability of success! 

3. Be careful not to take on too much too soon.

This point goes with the idea above of making sure that goals are achievable. We know that when it comes to habit and lifestyle change, the greatest success rate comes from adding in small, incremental changes, not everything all at once, because often doing too much is very difficult to sustain – and sustainability is the goal! 

4. Break up exercise into small, frequent bouts.

Long durations of exercise can be taxing, uncomfortable, and daunting for individuals with obesity. If this is the case, I recommend breaking exercise into smaller bouts throughout the day. For example, with a 30-minute daily goal of walking, consider breaking it up into 10-minute bouts 3 times a day!

5. Try to make choices in your daily life that lead to more overall movement.

Adopting a mindset of making your daily activities a little more active can really make a difference in daily energy expenditure! Things like parking further away, taking the stairs whenever possible, and setting a timer to get up every 15-20 minutes are great examples of how to increase your daily movement!

6. Start with low-impact exercise that is less likely to cause pain and be too difficult. 

As discussed, conventional exercise types can be uncomfortable and difficult. Modes such as walking, swimming, stationary biking, and weight training (modified to individual capacity and limitations) are great low-impact ways to get moving and promote a higher caloric expenditure.

If you or someone you know experiences obesity and is looking to get more active, please reach out, and I would be happy to help! 

Krystyna Woodson
Clinical Exercise Physiologist


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