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Monday, July 18, 2011

BIG MOVES: A safe exercise routine for obese people who want to lose weight

Triathlons can be grueling events, even for the fittest of athletes. So, imagine everyone’s surprise at the 2006 Concreteman Triathlon in Springfield, MO when a man who was clearly on the plus side of 300 lbs showed up to compete. It wasn’t until after every other competitor had finished the 2-3 hour race that I noticed this man again. It was quite inspirational to see. As the rest of the competitors were driving away, and long after the awards for the top finishers were handed out, this man was laboring toward the finish line in 95 degree heat. Was he inspiring?…YES. Was he also a bit crazy? ABSOLUTELY. The chance for injury and perhaps much worse are pretty high in an individual competing in an endurance event in such condition. It is admirable to have such ambition. However, if you have the goal of competing in a triathlon, make that a long-term goal and take small steps each day toward it. This will increase the opportunity for a safe, enjoyable, life-long activity.

So where should you start? Increasing exercise activity is a crucial component for people who have weight to lose. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it will take 45-90 minutes of exercise per day, 5 days per week to achieve weight loss. I know that seems daunting for those with a significant amount of weight to lose or with chronic orthopedic issues. However, it can be done…safely! Here is a proposed regimen that almost anyone can do:

Day 1: Start the week off with a brisk walk. If 45-60 minutes is too ambitious, go as far as you can go. For each subsequent walk, add 5 minutes until you achieve at least 60 minutes. This is not a quick-fix. The goal is to achieve long-term health and wellness. If you just can’t tolerate the idea of a 60 minute continuous brisk walk, break up the walk into three walks of 20 minutes each. The key word in this discussion is “brisk”. In order to achieve maximum benefit, the intensity needs to be relatively high. Although some use 60% of max heart rate as their target heart rate for fat burning, I would go for 80% to increase the number of calories burned per hour. To calculate your target heart rate, subtract your age from 220, and multiply that number x .80. I would recommend you purchase an inexpensive heart rate monitor to give you visual feedback on how you are maintaining your intensity during your activity. Polar makes an excellent heart rate monitor that provides everything you need. I have included the link here to the monitor on Amazon:


Day 2: Hit the pool! Water exercise is great for those with weight related orthopedic chronic pain issues. The main reasons are:
  • The water decreases the effect of gravity and un-weights the joints. This allows for greater freedom of movement and longer activity duration.
  • The water improves blood flow. The hydrostatic pressure is greater at deeper depths and decreases in more shallow water. So, if you are standing in the water, this aids in getting blood back to the heart.
  • Water increases sensation all over the body. In general, this feels good, and provides feedback to the neurological system to help with balance and lessen pain.

There are many things you can do in the water, from low-impact water aerobic exercise and water walking, to higher intensity lap swimming and water polo. Whatever you decide, remember to wear your heart monitor. (The recommended on amazon.com is water resistant). You may notice it is a bit harder to hit your target heart rate doing water aerobics or walking. However, the nice thing about water is as you increase the speed of your activity, you will increase the resistance. The increase work will elevate your heart rate and help you achieve your target zone.

Day 3: By day 3, you will be ready for something different. A beginner yoga video or class would be a good choice. I know some people may be skeptical; I was as well. However, I have found that the improved mobility from the combined movement patterns, the mental discipline developed from pushing through the discomfort, the improved spinal alignment, and core strength gained from yoga has helped decrease pain and increase body awareness and fitness motivation.

There is a nice dvd specifically for obese patients who want to make yoga part of their fitness regimen. It is called Heavyweight Yoga. You can follow this link to get to the site: http://heartfeltyoga.com/shop.htm. In many communities, there are yoga studios with classes specifically designed for heavier individuals. So, don’t be afraid to give it a try. Yoga has become an important part of my fitness routine….but, I do take a pass on the “ohms”.

Day 4: Seated resistance exercises. Early in the weight loss program, it is important to focus on improving nutrition and aerobic types of exercise to maximize fat loss. However, incorporating some resistance exercise stimulates different muscle fibers, improves muscle tone, and facilitates increases in strength. For those who have a lot of weight to lose, many exercises can be done sitting down. In addition, you can do a whole body workout and still burn a lot of calories by doing an interval routine. That means you alternate between upper body and lower body exercises and perform the entire routine with just a couple brief rest breaks. Below is a link to a seated exercise routine that can be done at home:


Day 5: Finish off the week strong with a nice, long bike ride. You could possibly make this workout fall on a Saturday so you can take a little more time and really enjoy a longer workout.  For most, this is a good alternative to running because you can increase heart rate without all the excessive weight bearing that places high loads on the back, hips, knees and feet. In addition, if you get outside you can enjoy the views, and a 2 hour bike ride can go by quickly. Of course, that is great for the spring and fall and most of the summer, but what about the winter? Joining a spin class at a gym can be a great social activity and help keep you motivated and elevate your intensity.

On the 6th day, take a break! You deserve it. If you don’t feel like you can do this routine, do something.

The other day, my four-year-old son told his two-year-old sister that she could not have peanut butter because she was “electric” to it. I promise, you are not “electric” to exercise, even if you think you are going to have some sort of adverse reaction. Once you make it a part of your life, and start feeling changes in your well-being, you may even enjoy it!

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