By Dr. Rachael E. Schindler

We hear a lot about obesity these days. The usual solutions range from gastric-bypass surgery to strict diets and lots of exercise. However, even with all this attention, there are a couple of aspects of being more than 100 pounds overweight that no one is really addressing.

I discovered these missing links when I was working with two clients, sisters who were also nurses, both of them severely overweight. Their “biggest” problem? They knew they had to exercise to get the weight off and keep it off, and they even wanted to and sincerely attempted to. But some of the popular exercises were downright impossible to do because of their size! Unfortunately, this just further discouraged them from ever thinking that they could embark on a plan that would be safe, easy, and effective. So, together, we came up with a list of exercise issues and solutions, and I also incorporated the proper guidelines for a worthwhile exercise regimen that I would like to share with readers who are in the same boat.

First of all, many adults who are overweight, and this includes those that are middle-aged, experience a higher level of discomfort or pain than people of a healthy weight do when they increase their activity level. They are also more likely to sustain injury due to the high stress on joints and improper form stemming from the excess weight. Additionally, severely overweight individuals may be concerned that they do not have the athletic ability to participate in an exercise program. For these individuals, the best advice I could give is: “Take it slowly.” It is perfectly acceptable to begin at a slower pace and build up the intensity and duration of the exercise over time.

With your doctor’s consent, you can immediately start non-weight-bearing, enjoyable activities such as swimming or bike-riding for about a half hour per day, five days a week. At this pace, you can lose about a quarter pound of fat a week, or more! Another excellent activity is walking, since it requires little athletic ability and equipment and is great fun, especially with a friend. I can’t begin to count the number of studies that show that partnering with friends or family provides the support some overweight people need in order to keep up and be consistent with any exercise plan. So go ahead, make the exercise time productive–physically, mentally, and socially!

A gym is a great place to take your fitness level up to the next stage. Whether you are working out by yourself, with a class, or, better yet, with a trainer, make sure you incorporate the three components of fitness:

Strength training. The only way to protect and make new lean muscle mass is by making your muscles work harder than they are used to, with resistance equipment such as free weights, machines, or bands. Your goal should be to do at least three sets of ten reps of a given exercise twice a week and choose a weight that is sufficiently challenging so that your muscles are fatigued after the first set. Don’t worry about building bulk. You are not using a heavy enough weight to do that in 30 reps or so. The best part is, the more lean muscle tissue you make, the more calories your body burns at rest, even when you are not exercising!

Cardiovascular training. For “cardio” or aerobic exercise, you want to work at a pace that is challenging but not exhausting. This means that your “perceived exertion” should be that you can talk while doing it, but have no desire to. Not only does cardiovascular exercise strengthen your heart and lungs and help your muscles better utilize energy and rid themselves of waste products, but it is also best for fat-burning, if you can do it for longer than 25 minutes at a time.

Stretching. As a Pilates master, this is my most favorite thing to do! As people age, their joints become stiffer and their bodies less flexible. Stretching helps to maintain more-fluid joints (which means less pain and better range of motion), enhances the effectiveness of resistance training, improves balance (which is the first thing to go as you age), and reduces the risk of back injury. The best part is that it feels amazing and you only need to do it for a few minutes!

Some helpful last tips: If you are severely overweight, avoid floor exercises, since getting up and down from the floor can cause injury to various joints, aside from not being an easy task, and your body (especially your neck) may not be in alignment with the rest of your spine due to the excess weight. Also, bits at a time count. Walk to your car, take the stairs . . . it’s all good! And finally, the main thing for an overweight person to do when getting started is to not push too hard, lest you get discouraged too quickly. The road to better health and more stamina by exercising is a journey, but it’s one that will provide great benefits, including a healthier body weight. v

Rachael E. Schindler, PhD., is a psychologist, founder of TheFiveTownsDiet meals home delivery, noted lecturer and author, certified pediatric and adult nutrition counselor, certified personal trainer, and group fitness instructor and Pilates master for over 20 years. She practices in Cedarhurst, Lawrence, and Manhattan. Dr. Schindler specializes in fitness, food, and behavioral issues in children and adults. She can be reached to order, for an appointment, or for comments at or 917-690—5097.


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