The thought of exercise can be intimidating to overweight people. “It hurts to exercise.” “I’m embarrassed by my body and don’t want others to see me.” The self-sabotaging thoughts can go on and on. See if you can relate to some of the following excuses people make for not exercising.
Pros of Weight Loss
It’s too hot outside
It’s too cold outside
I’m too busy
It’s raining outside
It’s too sunny
The sun’s not out
I don’t have a dog to walk
I have no room for exercise
Cons of Weight Loss
I have to take my children
I have company
I went on vacation
I have a cold
My exercise partner is sick
I don’t like to exercise
Exercise is boring
People will look at me and talk
I want to lose weight first
I’m too awkward to move
around in public
Everyone can always find a reason for not exercising. However, let’s reframe the discussion and begin to think of moving your body. The body is a machine and is meant to be used. It is very difficult to lose weight and keep it off through dietary restriction alone. It is essential to increase your activity level, especially during weight loss, to keep lean muscle mass. In addition, consistent activity leads to increased muscle mass.
Muscle is more metabolically active than fat tissue and therefore will result in an increased metabolic rate over the long term. For example, one pound of muscle mass burns approximately thirty calories per day. On the other hand, one pound of fat burns only about three calories per day. More muscle mass is desirable, as it will help you to maintain your new weight.
Activity has many benefits beyond weight loss. These include a greater sense of well-being due to the balancing and regulation of hormones and body chemicals, stress reduction, increased metabolic rate, increased body tone, and improved sleep. When you exercise in conjunction with eating in a healthier manner, you will have a greater chance of success in losing weight and in maintaining your new weight.
It is important to find activities that you enjoy. It doesn’t make sense to vow to walk on a treadmill three times a week for thirty minutes if you hate the treadmill. This is not something you will be able to maintain. It’s far better to look for ways to increase activity in your day-to-day life. Find enjoyable activities that you enjoy that will allow you to be more active.
Start with wearing a FitBit or a pedometer. These devices track the steps you walk each day, and give you a pretty good objective measurement of your degree of physical activity. Clip your pedometer to your belt or waistband, right in front of your hip. Put it on in the morning after getting dressed, and wear it all day. It will take into account the steps walked at home, at work, when you are out and about, and when you are exercising. At the end of the day, record the number of steps you’ve taken. It’s easy to put this number into your Food/Exercise Record, and it will help you calculate results. You’ll quickly be able to see how parking the car a little farther away from your destination, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and walking to the mailbox instead of driving increase the number of steps taken.
Two thousand steps are roughly equal to one mile. The ultimate goal for weight loss is to reach 10,000 steps per day. However, if you find that your daily activity gives you only about 4000 steps per day, increase the number of steps you take in increments of 500 until you reach the 10,000 mark. Most people will need to incorporate some form of structured activity into their days to reach 10,000 steps.
A word of caution—your pedometer or FitBit readings may be falsely elevated by a bumpy car ride, when worn while horseback riding, or when driving a piece of heavy equipment. Keep checking your device for accuracy, and make the necessary adjustments. Pedometers will not register steps taken when cycling or swimming. Your pedometer readings could even be incorrect due to the type of clothing you wear. Waistbands that roll and heavier, thicker material such as denim may make it difficult for the pedometer to track your steps, as it is not in close contact with the body. Again, keep checking for accuracy and make the necessary adjustments.
For those of you, who have great difficulty with exercise because of your size or overall health condition, think of other ways in which you might be able to increase your movement. If you’re in a wheelchair, are you able to move your arms and stretch daily? If you’re on oxygen, are you able to walk across the room? Little steps and a little movement count, and are the starting point of your weight-loss journey.
Certainly, structured activity is beneficial and should be a goal for anyone trying to improve health. We live in such a sedentary society that we need to make an effort to incorporate exercise into our day-to-day lives. Research has shown that 92 percent of people who are able to maintain a healthy weight exercise regularly. On the other hand, only 34 percent of those who regain weight exercise regularly.
Walking is a wonderful form of activity. Begin slowly. If you can only walk for five minutes at a time, so be it. As you lose weight and improve your aerobic conditioning, you will be able to step up the pace and increase the distance walked. Add a minute or two to your walk every week. Before you know it, you’ll be walking thirty minutes a day and enjoying it!
In addition to participating in an activity that improves your cardiovascular health, choose other exercises that will increase your muscle mass, such as resistance training or weightlifting. As you develop more muscle mass, you will increase your metabolic rate for the long term. Remember, muscle is a much more metabolically active tissue than fat. Thus, the ideal combination of activity is one blending some form of aerobic activity (walking, biking, swimming, dancing) with light weightlifting, use of resistance bands, Pilates, or yoga. This combination will offer you the optimal opportunity to shed pounds and maintain a healthy weight.
Think about your feelings towards increased activity. If they are negative, try to frame them in a more positive light. Remember, exercise doesn’t mean putting on spandex and going to the gym. It means increased movement for overall improved health. Reframe those negative excuses as positive statements:
- Since it’s cold outside, I’ll wear my hat and gloves when I go for my walk.
- My exercise partner is sick, but I can still go to the mall and do my thirty minutes of walking by myself.
- I don’t have room in the house for exercise equipment, but I can get down on the floor and stretch. I have a radio and can put on some music and move to it.
- I can set my alarm for fifteen minutes earlier each morning, get up, and walk on the treadmill for fifteen minutes.
- Instead of using the elevator, I’ll walk the two flights of stairs to my office each day.
Make a commitment to yourself to be physically active for thirty minutes each day. This can include mowing the lawn with a push mower instead of a riding mower, walking the golf course instead of riding in a cart, parking the car a little farther away from your destination, getting up from your desk and delivering your message to a co-worker in person instead of sending him an e-mail, or walking to a nearby restaurant for lunch instead of driving.
Just as you have a goal of losing a certain number of pounds, you should establish some activity goals as well. It’s very effective to keep a journal and write things down accurately. Every weekend, take a few minutes to review the upcoming week’s schedule. Write down on your calendar specific dates and times when you will exercise. This will solidify your commitment—it becomes an appointment that you must keep, just like any other. You are more likely to accomplish something when it is written down on your to-do list.
Remember, small steps add up. Little changes along the way do make a big difference. If you truly want to reach and maintain a healthier weight, increased activity is not just an option—it is a necessity.
Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight.”