Back pain when walking?
October 28, 2010 8:26 AM   Subscribe

After a near lifetime of depression I am finally coming out the other side of it, albeit tentatively. I feel energized enough to start exercising daily as my doctor has advised. Sounds great, eh? The problem? I'm 100lbs overweight and my body is screaming no at me. Help me figure out how to overcome the aches to keep going.

I'm starting off slow with walking around the block and slowly pushing it forward. Going from stop sign to stop sign as I am so out of shape that anything more is so taxing I'm afraid I won't make it home. Plus I'm still over coming my fear of being seen in public walking for walking sake. On average this is just 15 minutes a day so far.

The problem is that about every second day my back muscles seize up half way through and it becomes an excruciating plod back home with me having to stop every 50 ft or so and rest. It is my lower back and today it was along the muscles in my knee and hips as well. This does not bode well as I, frankly, still have automatic thoughts of quitting anytime anything is remotely difficult.

I know nothing about exercising or the human body and was wondering if anyone knew solutions or if this will go away with time. Any tips? Tricks? Words of inspiration and hope that hugely fat people can walk more than 15 minutes at a time? And that everyone in the world isn't staring at me and making comments?
posted by kanata to Health & Fitness (62 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
The least stressful form of exercise is swimming (as long as you know how to swim - but I can assure you that you will prove to be extremely bouyant). The water supports your weight, so being overweight does not matter to the process of swimming. And you don't have to do laps, like a competitive swimmer in training for the Olympics; you can flounder around and do any kind of swimming that you like (as long as you keep your head above water). Of course, you may not have access to a swimming pool.

Other than that, any amount of exercise that you can tolerate is helpful, and if you are also being careful about what you eat, you will see gradual improvement and will be able to exercise more and more. From what you describe, with the back pain and knee pain, walking may be too strenuous for you, but try exercises that you can do lying down.
posted by grizzled at 8:34 AM on October 28, 2010

Swim. If you can't actually swim, find a shallow pool where you can walk or half walk/half swim (there is a name for this, but I've forgotten it). It'll support your weight, allow to you to get some cardio fitness back, and gradually build enough strength to start walking.

On preview, beaten to it. So I second grizzled.
posted by Ahab at 8:35 AM on October 28, 2010

I'm more than 100lb overweight and I can regularly walk at a fairly "normal" pace for 30 or 40 minutes with no ill effects besides some sweat and fatigue.

You might look at this recent for some gentle strengthening ideas.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:37 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might find, too, that just walking back and forth in a pool will help. My grandma did this after her hip replacement, until she was strong enough to return to her regular walking routine, and I did a lot of pool-walking when I was pregnant, and sciatica made it hard for me to get around.
posted by padraigin at 8:37 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

GOOD FOR YOU! You should be super-proud... and know that you're working every bit as hard - if not much harder - than the svelte little gazelles you see traipsing along in their running shorts.

I started running when I was about eighty lbs. overweight (I'm still nowhere near "ideal", but that's the fault of cheese, not running). The key for me was going excruciatingly slowly, as well as running in the late evening along a well-traveled but not pedestrian-heavy road. Also, well-fitting workout clothes are a HUGE benefit - nothing makes you feel self-conscious faster than having to pull your shorts out of your ass or yank on your t-shirt every ten seconds.

If you walk slowly enough, you can walk for a LOT longer than you'd think... and as you build your musculature and cardio capacity, you'll be able to pick up your pace without pain.

And know that there are at least SOME people who see heavier exercisers and think, "ALRIGHT... you go, guy/girl!"
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:38 AM on October 28, 2010 [16 favorites]

If you have access to a YMCA, swimming is good. If not, walking is great. When I started to exercise (100 pounds overweight then so I know how it is), I began with water aerobics, walking, and very gentle strength exercises.
But what helped me the most dealing with "Help me figure out how to overcome the aches to keep going." was this:
I was *angry*. I was angry at me ex-husband who treated me bad, I was angry at my depression for turning me from a young, vital woman into a cowering couch potato and I was angry I didn't feel good. I said, "Fuck YOU, depression and fuck the way I have cluttered up my body with this protective layer of insulation I don't NEED anymore. So just like you, depression, that shit is GONE".
As much as it hurt, my anger was stronger than my pain. This may not work for everyone but after a decade of trying to lose, embracing it was the only thing that worked.
posted by pointystick at 8:42 AM on October 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

You live in BC, so I don't know how relevant this is but what is the air like where you live? I'm a big walker, but when I moved to Los Angeles, I realized I couldn't walk for more than a half hour without getting aches, pains and horrible wheezing. Dirty air is not the environment you want for this endeavor. Perhaps instead of walking around your block, you can drive to a park and walk around in the park. Plus, you'll be slightly less self-conscious as you'll be in a more "natural" area for walking (I assume you live somewhere that driving is status-quo.)

Good luck! Walking is underrated and awesome.
posted by griphus at 8:44 AM on October 28, 2010

Congratulations, and good for you! Nthing swimming, it really helped my mom regain some of her strength when she was in a similar position.
posted by torisaur at 8:45 AM on October 28, 2010

The answer to this is almost always to listen to your body and back off a bit so that you don't hurt yourself. Baby steps, don't push it. Take as much pleasure as you can from it. You don't need to power down the sidewalk with your arms pumping. Amble along as if you were walking an old dog.

Walking is a great exercise because it doesn't involve much preparation. You're out the door and doing it. You have an ipod, right?
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:49 AM on October 28, 2010

I hope you find the below inspirational (from a triathlon forum I participate in):

Good Morning Everyone,

I put together a little video that chronicles my journey from Super Morbid Obesity to Ultra Endurance Athlete & Ironman. So many people have played a tremendous roll in my journey, including many of you here on ST. I found my inspiration in the beginning from others, so I am trying to pay it forward and hopefully inspire that one person who may be doubting themselfe or ability. Have an awesome day!

Congrats to you for taking the first steps to overcome your fears and taking charge of your health. I understand it's hard now - do not give up! For all those out there who might stare or gawk, know that there are others who will give you a thumbs up or a high five!
posted by de void at 8:54 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I came in to say almost exactly what julthumbscrew said. Walking, because it is easy to do with no special equipment, no special location and little or no risk of injury. That last part is pretty important - you're most vulnerable to injury when you're freshly dedicated to whipping yourself into shape. When the walking has started to work its magic, you can start to look at other exercises that interest you.

Swimming is great exercise, too, but I personally find it really boring and have a hard time sticking to it. Plus, you have to walk around in a bathing suit, which is not easy if you feel self-conscious about your weight. If it works for you, though, great.

Also, I've never been significantly overweight myself, but when I see overweight people exercising I send them a silent supportive wish of luck and success. I'm certainly not making snide comments. (And sometimes I notice the same person a month or two later, and I can *see* the difference they've wrought in their bodies. That's always awesome.)
posted by richyoung at 8:55 AM on October 28, 2010

Good for you! And I can tell you that whenever I see anyone overweight exercising, I am filled with admiration and silently cheering them on. Yes, people may look, but by and large I don't think they're going to think anything older than "great job."

As for your back, you should be careful with it. I would recommend trying out a simple home yoga program which will be a work out and make you more in touch with your capabilities in general. Here's a dvd that looks good. Also, I think it would be a great investment to take a few hours of private one-on-one yoga classes with an instructor who has experience in gentle yoga. It's a great way to jumpstart your progress.
posted by yarly at 8:55 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you do any stretching before you walk? Try walking every Other day for a couple of days -- your body may still be recovering from the walk the day before, and that's what's causing the seize up every other. Try stretching a little every day, though.

I also find that sometimes it helps to take ibuprofen a half hour before - that way my body already has some anti-inflammatories in it when I start to do the things that might cause inflammation (and thus joint/muscle pain).

re: being seen. I, too, started exercising at about 100 pounds overweight, and was hugely self-conscious about it. I've now realized after 10 years of regular Y membership that most folks aren't paying attention to anyone but themselves. The meanies are in horribly places in their own lives that cause them lash out at others. And the few other people out there, the ones that just say "hi" or whatever, are actually thinking encouraging thoughts. When I started to lose a little weight, people who'd seen me exercising would suddenly stop me to say I was doing great. So don't let what other people might think stop you. You are doing Good Things for Yourself.
posted by ldthomps at 8:56 AM on October 28, 2010

Nthing swimming. Also, you might like recumbent bike machines.

And there's no shame in taking days off. In fact, if 15 minutes was wiping me out, I'd do something like 0-15-0-10-0-15-10 for a few weeks (i.e., take Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday off, doing 15 minutes on Monday and Friday, and 10 on Wednesday and Saturday,) upping the 15s to 20s and the 10s to 15s once actual second-day pain was no longer an issue. I make it a point to do no more than 4 days of intense-for-me exercise in a row; I'm probably 110lbs overweight and can do perhaps 65 minutes of speedy walking before "needing" (as opposed to desperately wishing for) a rest.
posted by SMPA at 8:56 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

About a year ago, I spent some time one-on-one with a good Pilates trainer working on basic body mechanics--seriously, well once spent an hour session on how to sit in a chair, another on how to get in and out of chairs (Most useful thing ever for my knees), and some time on how to stand and walk. It made a huge difference in my physical comfort and ability to do things.
posted by not that girl at 8:58 AM on October 28, 2010

Good for you!! Keep up the good work. I agree with the swimming, or on the same note, look for a water exercise class if you don't know how or don't fell comfortable swimming. Sometimes they're advertised as arthritis classes, but they're good for everyone. It would probably be a good idea to see if you can get a referral to a physical therapist. (S)he can show you appropriate stretches and/or other exercises for your back and look at your gait to see if you're doing something to irritate it.
posted by Lost at 9:01 AM on October 28, 2010

Oh YAY for you. I have not had a long depression like that, but I've definitely had it, and coming through the other side is SO WONDERFUL. I'm happy for you.

Like everyone else has said - baby steps. There is a lot of good advice above.

Also - I am 100 lbs overweight, and I'm pretty active. I ride my bike 10 miles a day (when I'm not too lazy to ride to work. :D). My job requires me to be on my feet 7 hours a day. I walk a LOT.

I added that in so you know - being overweight should not hold you back once you have your strength. Once you have that, you can try anything you like.

Good luck, and this particular stranger on the internet is glad you're improving. :D
posted by bibliogrrl at 9:01 AM on October 28, 2010

How about making a visit to a physical therapist? I saw one recently and he showed me some easy stretches and exercises I never would've come up with, and that are tailored exactly to what I need to avoid pain when walking.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:03 AM on October 28, 2010

What about seeing a trainer once a week. Sitting down with someone who does this for a living and talking about strategies/exercises might be a good way to start out.
posted by TheBones at 9:04 AM on October 28, 2010

Hey there, me circa 2009. 330 lbs, 6'. How ya doin'?

Lift weights. It might seem counter-intuitive at first, but a lot of these problems stem from you being too weak to properly walk/bend over/etc. Walking more, swimming more, these things will all help a little, but if you want to really feel alive you should lift weights.

You can do this in under an hour, three days a week.

Your life will change.

Good luck.
posted by unixrat at 9:04 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

(oops, sorry, should have warned you in advance to turn down your speakers for that video - Nickleback is genuinely painful for some people to hear)
posted by de void at 9:07 AM on October 28, 2010

Do you have a bike or access to a bike? Recumbent bikes are particularly good for taking strain off your back and hips, but any sort of biking will be easier on your joints than walking. And you can adjust your route/gear/speed to fit your body's current abilities.

If you want to stick with the walking, could you take shorter walks more often? Walking half the distance twice a day is just as good for you, and it might give your body more time to recover so that you're less likely to injure yourself.

Finally, you might benefit from some basic weight training and stretching. It's likely that you're already very strong from carrying your body around, but building up your muscles with squats or other basic bodyweight exercises, along with gentle stretching, might help to prevent pain as you build up to more aerobic exercise.

If you're able, I might suggest a visit to a trainer, physical therapist, or other exercise specialist. There are posts here that talk about what to look for in a trainer, and you can also ask whether they have specific experience working with bigger clients and with beginners. Someone with relevant expertise will be able to help you design an exercise plan to grow as your body's capacity grows.

Finally, congratulations on your newfound good health. Getting started is the hardest part, but even this isn't harder than working through crippling depression, so no matter what your body's capabilities right now, keep reminding yourself of how far you've come and of the great work you're doing to take care of yourself.
posted by decathecting at 9:07 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you don't have access to a swimming pool, there's one more option for your back if you really can't stand walking: a recumbent stationary bike. I'm about 100 lbs overweight and I have absolutely no physical issues using it. It also solves the self-consciousness issue getting in the way of a much needed exercise routine.

If you can still find it, and if it's still in the $150-200 price range, I recommend the Marcy Recumbent Magnetic Bike. It's cheap considering how sturdy it is. And it's small-ish if you don't attach the bars around the seat.
posted by Faraday Cage at 9:08 AM on October 28, 2010

Oh, crap, in my enthusiasm to recommend my favorite low-impact exercise, I skipped reading your entire question and totally recommended what's hurting you. I'm really sorry about that.

Having read a little more, it sounds like you're having illiotibial (IT) band pain and possibly overworking your psoas muscles (knowing the terms might help you google them). I have had similar lower back issues and found that a lot of it stems from leg flexibility.

IANAPT but for the IT band issue, you might try toe-touching stretches where you reach for right toe with left hand and vice versa. These stretches can be done seated on the floor, using a towel or belt to "reach" your toes if necessary.

Rodney Yee put out a "yoga for back pain" video a while back that helped me some; it involved some twisting stretches that might not be a good idea if you have underlying back problems; a doctor would be a good idea to ensure everything's okay.

Also, be aware that sitting in chairs is causal for these kinds of problems. Start sitting on the floor more, or standing - but make the change gradually.

The rest of this will be best served by taking baby steps in terms of duration and intensity. Be patient and gentle with yourself, and it will come.
posted by richyoung at 9:09 AM on October 28, 2010

Are you sure there isn't another medical issue going here? I'm "100 lbs overweight" by someone's standards, I'm sure, and I'm also an asthmatic with weak ankles who doesn't get much more exercise than walking up and down the stairs in my house, and I can walk further than that with no problem. I can take a three mile walk if I frequently use my inhaler. (However, because I'm afraid of running out of my inhaler early and being denied a new one, I don't do this often. Plus schlepping a six and three year old on a three mile walk is double-plus-unfun.) I think you might want to go to the doctor and make sure you don't have asthma, hypothyroid, or something else. This amount of difficulty exercising seems kind of unusual, even considering your current condition.
posted by Shoeburyness at 9:11 AM on October 28, 2010

It sounds like a muscle strength / walking style issue. I only mention walking style because you may be walking in a manner that strains a muscle you don't use when you're normally up and getting around; however, it's also completely possible that it's just a strength issue and the only thing that will make it better is frequent exercise (like you're doing) with good stretches while being careful not to over-do it and pull a muscle or hurt yourself. I've had good experience with a physical therapist in the past and think The corpse in the library has a good suggestion about seeing one if that's feasible for you; they might be able to help you do some back-specific strengthening/stretching activities and come up with some other exercises that won't strain that muscle too much. If that's not feasible, then there are a lot of back stretches and exercises on-line although you'll probably have to modify them to work for you.
posted by Lady Li at 9:11 AM on October 28, 2010

No tips or tricks, but for words of inspiration, go here: Escape From Obesity - "A look into the secret life and inner thoughts of an obese mom. I have to get out of this hellish nightmare." After a long struggle, she's finally figuring out what she needs to do for herself to be healthy and happy. I think that if you started from the beginning and read the whole thing, you'd really like it.
posted by coupdefoudre at 9:13 AM on October 28, 2010

de void: I'm not sure a video about someone who had radical surgery is necessarily going to be inspirational for someone who's just starting out by trying to walk more. What this guy did is pretty impressive, but for someone just starting out who is self-conscious about even just walking, I think it might be a bit too extreme.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:13 AM on October 28, 2010

In a similar situation myself ;o)

I've read that you'll get back aches if your stomach muscles are weak/separated, so I've been trying to find a way to strengthen them without stressing/separating them further.

I recently went to a 3-day music festival that required a mile walk to and from the stage, so there was no choice about it, and in a crowd full of drunken dude-bros, no less. I found that going as slow as I wanted & taking many breaks, others be damned, helped a lot. As did linking arms with my niece and deciding it was a leisurely stroll. And I found that shoes made a big difference -- my beloved Keens did not serve me as well as my Croc flip-flops (and I NEVER, EVER would have guessed THAT) . . . so maybe trying different shoes, even if they are improbable?

This was three nights in a row, so by the end I was pretty tired, but I'm betting if I'd done it every other day & given my muscles a rest in between that it would've been just a teeny bit easier by the third time.

My aunt suggested taking a dog, and deciding that everyone was looking at the dog.

And for the record, my BFF is stunningly gorgeous (& perfectly proportioned and all that, etc) and into running, spinning, swimming -- there are days when she skips her run around the neighborhood because *she* feels too self-conscious. So some of the beautiful people breezing by are scared, too.
posted by MeiraV at 9:13 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

IIRC the current thinking is that whilst stretching in order to achieve a target level of flexibility is fine, stretching for it's own sake before exercise is actively harmful: you're more likely to injure yourself if you stretch beforehand. Warming up is still a good idea though.

To the OP. It sounds like you would really benefit from some exercises that improve your core body strength. You're probably putting your back out because the muscles that hold you together simply aren't strong enough yet.

It's also possible that you're walking in a way that's putting enormous strain on your back because of the extra weight you're carrying: we lighties can get away with bad posture because we don't have to hold up as much, but it's probably crucial for you to get your posture bang on if you're going to walk any distance. Could you ask someone to watch you walking? Bonus points if they've done any pilates...

Having said that, I well remember the first hockey matches of term back when I was in school/college. Oh the agony afterwards: naturally I would have done no real exercise over the summer & the payback was a week of soreness as my muscles got used to the new regime. It seems perfectly reasonable that your body should protest similarly, in which case the soreness should wear off as you get accustomed to the new level of exercise. In the meantime, hot baths help!

(Congratulations on getting out there btw!)
posted by pharm at 9:16 AM on October 28, 2010

Oh, and if you don't want to walk every *other* day, try varying your efforts so you have 'more strenuous' days interspersed with more gentle recovery days, at least to start.

Often, at least for me, muscle pain won't happen until the next day. It helps to do things that get those muscles moving on that day-after day as well. Not extreme effort, but gentle work that's enough to get the muscle warmed up and extra blood flowing through it (when a muscle is working harder, it needs more blood) to loosen up the stiffness.

If it doesn't freak you out, try making a log of what walking you did each day - it might help to be able to see that you are getting better at it, however slowly.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:19 AM on October 28, 2010

rmd1023, and OP: Ben Davis has a similar story--lost 120 lbs and became a triathlete, but with no surgery. Also worth checking out.
posted by liketitanic at 9:20 AM on October 28, 2010

Be sure you're wearing the right shoes. Don't make the mistake of buying a pair of running shoes, and using them to walk. They will mess you up something fierce.

Buy shoes which are specifically labeled as "walking shoes." (I favor New Balance model 558, which help control my supination problem, and also come in a variety of widths to accommodate my fat little feet.)

How about walking at the mall? You're indoors, and there's no expectation of speed. It's perfectly acceptable to dawdle through a mall, whereas you might feel self-conscious about dawdling down the street. Plus it's climate-controlled, and there are plenty of benches where you can stop and rest when you need to.

Down side: food court. Avoid.
posted by ErikaB at 9:23 AM on October 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Oh, yay, good for you!

Please see an instructor, or a doctor, or someone else who does this for a living and can tell you what exercises you can do without causing injury to your body.

I'm similarly overweight and dealing with a knee injury right now brought on by a year of over-enthusiastic pavement-pounding. (I've changed to biking and swimming now)

Having said that, taking regular exercise was the BEST DECISION I ever made and I reckon it will be for you too. The effects it has on your mood, confidence and stamina are just incredible and addictive. Go for it, and you will thank yourself.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:41 AM on October 28, 2010

Congrats to you!

If you decide to try the swimming route, just grab onto the edge of the pool and do some slow flutter kicks for a while - either that or use a kick board (most public pools have them available for lap sessions).

If the swimming doesn't work for you, keep up the walking as IT WILL GET BETTER!

Advil is your friend.

There's two things that are most important from my point of view.

1) Consistency! Keep it up, do it regularly, increase the effort slowly (you'll know when you're ready), and let your body get used to moving again. It'll remember.

2) Self consciousness... everybody exercising feels this as some point or another. What worked for me over the years was saying in my mind 'fuck off' to the people that may have intimidated me. No one ever did, but BOY was I sure they were! Most people out there who see you making an effort actually think to themselves "good for him/her, keep it up!". Really - take pride in what you're doing. It's not easy, but don't let imaginary beasts keep you from doing what you've decided to do for yourself. Be PROUD!
posted by matty at 9:44 AM on October 28, 2010

Walking is fine, but no one ever lost a significant amount of fat by just walking unless they radically changed their diet.

Assuming you're a 5'5" tall female around 250 pounds, age 30, your metabolic needs are about 2,300 kcal a day. Thermodynamically speaking, you would lose about 3/4 lb a week if you restricted your calories to 1900 cal/day. In reality, you will probably drop weight much faster.

I would recommend doing so by eating ~160g of protein, 130g of fat, and incidental carbohydrates of no more than 20g. That's about 1900 calories.

If you think that's not very much, let me point out that it's the equivalent of a pound of pastrami and a half pound of chicken breast and three ounces of butter and the biggest avocado you can find and 2 cups of broccoli.

No sugar, no bread, no rice, no pasta, no beer. If you are trying to lose fat and maintain your existing muscle mass, just throw out all that shit. I'm sure there will be people who think I am a jerk for telling you that your diet should probably change, but I'm right and this is the way it works. Once you drop 10 or 20 or 30 pounds, I have no doubt you will immediately notice that walking is significantly easier.

You should also do strength training work. Most people will say that you have to do X or Y or Z, and I have my opinions about it as well, but in this case literally anything is better than nothing. If you have any questions feel free to MeMail me. Good luck.
posted by Gandhi Knoxville at 9:48 AM on October 28, 2010 [11 favorites]

^^^ Listen to this person.
posted by unixrat at 9:51 AM on October 28, 2010

Firstly, WELL DONE!! What an awesome step to take; from the fact that you are not only doing it, but actively seeking ways to improve the experience and make it more effective, suggests that you are already well on the way, and you are in the right mindset to really achieve your goals. Massive congratulations!

My suggestion is yoga - I cannot recommend it enough. It has helped my father overcome arthritis in his back, and actually made him grow a tiny amount in height, as his spine straightened out!

It probably won't help you with weight loss, but it will really help your muscles get stronger and more supple, and it should also help with your depression because of its meditative qualities. Win!

Good luck and if you want any yoga tips then memail me :)
posted by greenish at 9:52 AM on October 28, 2010

For exercise? Water aerobics. Oh my GOD. It is one of the few forms of exercise that can be really high-impact cardiovascularly while being basically zero-impact on your joints. It is just as hard work for a thin person as a fat person, which is kind of nice and refreshing and helps to counteract the "this is hard because I suck" feelings that so frequently accompany the beginning of an exercise program.

If you are worried about water sports because of the unbelievable fraughtness of finding a swimsuit, allow me to recommend Junonia, which sells a wide selection of swimsuits in larger sizes that are designed to actually MOVE in, not just feel ashamed of yourself in. If nothing there works, the good folks at Decent Exposures will happily make you a swimsuit in any size imaginable.

One more quick story in terms of having people feel judgy: at the time of this anecdote, I was roughly a hundred pounds overweight -- on a 5'2" frame. My boyfriend and I were up at Paradise, which is the highest spot you can drive to on Mt. Rainier in Washington state, and he wanted to take a little hike. There are a number of meandering trails around there, but they are oh god SO STEEP, but I gamely took off after him . . . and I was really, really struggling. We passed a group of mountaineers who were enjoying a post-hike snack, having hiked all the way up to Base Camp and back. They were all lean, strong, and wiry, like hatracks made of beef jerky, and I felt so ashamed of my condition. I made some flip self-deprecating comment as I huffed and puffed past them.

One of the guys spoke up. "Hush," he said. "There are a lot of people who call themselves athletes who NEVER push themselves as hard as you're pushing yourself right now. It's a gorgeous day, you're out here doing the work, respect the effort."

It really stuck with me, that idea of "respecting the effort." Everyone has different levels of ability, but one thing we all have is the ability to push ourselves in the pursuit of a goal. That push is admirable, regardless of where on the curve of ability it takes place, and anyone who is in tune with their own journey should respect it.
posted by KathrynT at 10:05 AM on October 28, 2010 [22 favorites]

I was 100 pounds overweight a year ago and have lost 60 pounds, so I'll tell you what I did. First, I got a physical before I started exercising, and I recommend you do the same. I started out walking about 15 minutes, 3-4 times a week, at a pace that was comfortable. In addition to walking, I did sit-ups and some strength training with light dumbbells while watching TV in the evening.

I was also discouraged and self-conscious, so I tried not to think of it as exercise, and I tried not to put any pressure on myself. The walking was just a nice stroll to look at the trees, the buildings, the people, whatever. The sit-ups and dumbbell exercises were just something to do while watching TV.

Once I'd been walking for about three months, I'd built up to walking for 45 minutes or so, and I started going to the gym and seeing a personal trainer. Then I started pushing myself more. (AFTER losing about 60 pounds, I pushed too hard, hurt myself, and had to take some time off. So, listen to your body, don't do something if it really hurts, and see a doctor if you think you need to. Exercising less hard is better than hurting yourself.)

If you're having problems every second day, maybe ease off and just do it every other day for awhile. If it continues, see a doctor or physical therapist.

As for swimming, be aware that it is possible to go swimming without going out in public in what is essentially underwear. Look into getting women's swim shorts, rashguard top, or just a sports bra and a somewhat fitted t-shirt (so it won't billow around you).
posted by Mavri at 10:09 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, diet. Ghandhi Knoxville makes an excellent point. I was doing Weight Watchers.
posted by Mavri at 10:11 AM on October 28, 2010

Everyone gets self-conscious in public, so try to be aware that it is an internal issue and not a I-am-overweight issue. I'm really impressed by what you've already overcome, and I wish you the best as you keep going!
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 10:25 AM on October 28, 2010

For inspiration and encouragement, I'm another person who sends an invisible thumbs-up to overweight exercisers I see on the street. It seems tacky and intrusive to actually say or do anything, so you don't know what I'm thinking but I'm rooting for you. You impress me much more than the lean greyhound who just went zipping past!

For practical suggestions concerning aches and pains, I'd suggest looking into Pete Egoscue's methods. Your closest "clinic" is in Seattle, but his book Pain Free might help you just as well. His thesis is that a lot of people's pain comes from poor posture, and it's pointless to start exercising for strength until you fix the postural problems. Otherwise you're just strengthening the muscles that are currently overcompensating for the underlying problems and beating up your misaligned joints, which tends to make the problems worse. Tons of us in the Computer Age have poor posture (hunching and forward head/shoulders are really common - just look around!).

He suggests exercises (gentle stretches, really) for various parts of the body that hurt. I suggest you try the ones he recommends for back and legs before you go out for your daily walk. His stretches have really helped my back pains and I think they'd help you too. Plus they're so gentle it's hard to see how they could hurt anything, so it's pretty low-risk. They're not a substitute for the other good stuff you're doing, but they'll help you do it without hurting yourself in the process.

*silent thumbs-up!*
posted by Quietgal at 10:25 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Can I just point out that this is not a question about weight loss. The poster never mentions wanting to lose weight and did not ask for weight loss or eating tips. She asked for advice on walking and getting more exercise without pain, which may or may not be related to weight loss goals. Lots of people want to exercise more for reasons that have nothing to do with weight loss, including heart health, mood enhancement, and increasing ability to do other physical activities. Please don't make this yet another question in which people are admonished for eating white foods when the poster didn't ask us for food advice.
posted by decathecting at 10:32 AM on October 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Thanks for all the kind answers and words of encouragement first of all. It is heartening to hear that most people have similar fears when beginning exercise.

I know I definitely do have bad posture. Been hunched over reading a book or on a computer for decades now. The strengthening and stretching ideas hopefully will help. I think I will see about a referral to the physio at my next g.p. appointment.

Swimming is out due to my low confidence at this point. Not 100% out of a two decade depression stint yet if ever.

And decathecting is correct. I am not concerned with weight loss at this point and am exercising on the advice of my shrink to help my mood and increase my ability to get out and interact with people.
posted by kanata at 10:52 AM on October 28, 2010

Please don't feel ashamed if you have to walk slower or less often at first because of your back. Three times a week for 5-10 minutes is better than not walking at all.

For a while all I could do was ride my stationary bike for a few minutes before going back to bed and staring at the ceiling. I didn't realize it at the time, but making small goals to stimulate my mind and body helped me to eventually take bigger steps in my life. I went from staring at the ceiling... to getting up long enough to shower and brush my hair... to exercising for a few minutes every other day... to exercising for 30 minutes after a good game of chess... to actually reaching out to the human species after years of isolation and asking them for help. It doesn't matter if the rest of the world thinks I'm not doing enough. I'm slowly improving. That's the only thing that matters.

If you're like me, sometimes you're going to have to pretend you're caring for someone else when you're walking down that long, hard road. Imagine what you'd say to a loved one if they were in your exact situation. You probably wouldn't yell at them or think poorly of them for listening and caring enough about their body to walk slower, take as many breaks as they need, or to go home early. You need to be patient and compassionate with yourself too, kanata.
posted by Faraday Cage at 11:18 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

In terms of injury/pain, the only thing I can suggest is anecdotal (and totally not medical advice) - I stop working out or curtail activities when the pain gets from stretchy 'oh my muscle is working hard' to a sharp, grindy '...there is something wrong going on in there'-type of pain. You can start to separate out the two from experience - muscle soreness is kind of inevitable with any sort of exercise, and it's a sign that you're working hard enough for the muscle to get tired, which is a good thing. The bad-sharp pain is when you've pissed off the muscle enough for it to give up and let you suffer - that's what you don't want.

For pain in your knee - yes, posture. In your case, I'd suggest walking in intervals, working on pulling your shoulders back and walking upright with head up as much as possible. When you feel tired and can feel your posture dropping, sit down and take a break. It's better to do something slow and careful instead of going full-out and hurting yourself.

I would also be careful about using OTC painkillers to help yourself walk more. Pain's the body's way of telling you things - if you numb it and ignore it too much, you could really injure yourself and not know it. An associate of mine once took a bunch of Advil before some sort of competitive match to stop his (wrenched) ankle from hurting, and he very nearly ended up completely wrecking the joint from overuse.

And don't feel self-conscious! Like KathrynT says above - respect the effort. You're doing something to the best of your ability, and that's the only measuring stick you should be judging yourself by. Keep going - it's awesome what you're doing!
posted by zennish at 11:21 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am not concerned with weight loss at this point and am exercising on the advice of my shrink to help my mood and increase my ability to get out and interact with people.

That's fine. But if you say "I know nothing about exercising or the human body and was wondering if anyone knew solutions or if [the pain of walking] will go away with time," I am going to tell you, correctly, that the pain in your lower back, hips, and kees almost certainly has to do with being a hundred pounds overweight. I make no judgments and do not care about your weight or level of fitness. I'm just answering the question.

The only solutions are a) exercise in a medium that compensates for that extra mass, namely, water; b) change your body composition so the stresses on your joints are reduced; or c) do not exercise.
posted by Gandhi Knoxville at 11:40 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

You could start off with some walking-in-place (lift each foot alternating, arms swinging in time) while you watch TV - that way you can take as many breaks as you need and have something to distract you. You can add some small arm weights (or hold a water bottle in each hand) and lift your feet higher as you get used to it. There are also many exercises that you can do sitting in a chair.
posted by meepmeow at 11:58 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yoga! Even if you have to hire a private instructor until your confidence resumes and your body begins responding, yoga could help in so many ways.

There are some yoga instructors in my area that work with people one-on-one who have had illness, injury, and other issues, and who don't want to take a class because personal issues. I understand if you've never done it before it might be intimidating to walk into a class, even if it was for beginners. So there are people out there that will do therapeutic yoga with you while your body recovers.

And really, some yoga instructors are so compassionate and work with many different bodies- it's not just for super fit upper-middle class enlightened people. I've never been significantly overweight, but I have been depressed (started yoga for depression and anxiety) which has helped a lot. But was also surprised to see how it affected my body in terms of strength and flexibility.Which makes me want to want/run/swim because even though I'm not losing weight because of yoga, it makes me feel better about my body all over.
posted by Rocket26 at 12:05 PM on October 28, 2010

Absolutely seconding Gandhi Knoxville. Once you start getting adequate fat in your diet (saturated is good, fish oil is good. seed/vegetable oils are bad) you may well notice your mood picking up, as the brain and nervous system now has the raw materials for its upkeep.

When you cut that sugar and grain, your insulin will drop and your fat cells will start being able to release their contents - making you feel more energetic, because your body will be able to properly use its own energy.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:08 PM on October 28, 2010

"No sugar, no bread, no rice, no pasta, no beer. If you are trying to lose fat and maintain your existing muscle mass, just throw out all that shit. I'm sure there will be people who think I am a jerk for telling you that your diet should probably change, but I'm right and this is the way it works. Once you drop 10 or 20 or 30 pounds, I have no doubt you will immediately notice that walking is significantly easier."

"When you cut that sugar and grain, your insulin will drop and your fat cells will start being able to release their contents - making you feel more energetic, because your body will be able to properly use its own energy."

YES YES YES! Pick up a copy of "The Primal Blueprint" and visit, many stories of people who have overcome what you're facing.
posted by mcschmidt00 at 12:38 PM on October 28, 2010

I cannot favorite the 1:32pm comment hard enough. Movement should be fun and it will help you feel good. Please repeat that to yourself as often as necessary; you have my permission to eat Twizzlers and Oreos (or rice cakes and wheat germ) while doing so.

Also, depending on where you live, you may be able to find a single-sex pool class or restricted "open" swims, which helps some people feel less self-conscious (Curves has lots of clients who would never step into a gym with men there.)

If you still hurt regularly on the second day after, say, four or five weeks (of an every-other-day, steady intensity regimen,) definitely talk to a doctor or PT or both. Oh: and being well-hydrated every day might help with the achiness some.
posted by SMPA at 1:10 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, oh, oh!!! You could also get a Wii. The tennis and baseball are, like, exercise. Adorable, goofy, two minutes and you're done and it's in your living room exercise. I plan to get one of my own, right after I get a TV.
posted by SMPA at 1:51 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Keep a journal/log of how far you walk each day along with a few thoughts on what worked well and what didn't.

Without the journal, you will quickly forget how much further you're able able to walk and how much less concerned you are about other people's thoughts. This might lead you to getting discouraged when you'd otherwise be thrilled that you're still moving/exercising.

People were made to move, so good on you for taking the first step.
posted by fantasticninety at 2:50 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are great ideas in here, especially keeping an exercise log.

I'm just coming in to n'th that people are silently cheering you on, not laughing at you.

You know who I laugh at in my gym? (Internally, not really, of course.) The skinny 19 year old who is only skinny because she's 19, and who is "working out" by lifting like 5 pound weights while talking on her cell phone.

People like you? I pull for them. Always.
posted by kestrel251 at 5:55 PM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Here's what I've learned about exercise: You will never work as hard as you do during the first two weeks of an exercise program. Sure, when your fitness improves you might walk further or run faster or lift bigger weights, but nothing will ever feel as bad as the first two weeks of being active after months or years of being sedentary. Your body aches, your lungs rasp, every cell in your body begs for oxygen. If exercise felt that way forever, no-one would ever do it "for fun".

So try thinking of it like this: there is a finite amount of exercise you need to do before it stops being lung-bursting agony and starts being something you do by choice. Given your weight and your current level of fitness, it might take more than two weeks. Maybe it'll take three weeks or a month. But it will happen, probably sooner than you think. If you keep exercising, that awful feeling of dragging yourself from stop sign to stop sign will go away, and you'll start feeling the positive effects of exercise instead.

So, although I know it's hard to hear this when you're feeling crappy, push through the exhaustion and do it anyway. It won't always feel this bad. In fact, if you can make it through these first few weeks, and then maintain a regular exercise routine after that, it will never feel this bad again.
posted by embrangled at 6:22 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wait, who suggested taking painkillers? That's a *terrible* idea. Never take painkillers to enable you to do more exercise (unless specifically prescribed to you by a medical profession for that purpose): you'll kill your joints in short order.

embrangled is right though, the first week or so of real exercise after a sedentary period can really hurt. Especially the day afterwards. It should be the muscles that are hurting though, not the joints. Remember my story about the first hockey game of the winter up there? Sometimes I could barely walk the next day. Massage & application of heat helps the muscles to relax & recover though: it encourages blood flow.

It's a shame you feel swimming is out: it really is the *best* non-impact exercise out there. I can understand not wanting to be that exposed though.

Do you have the cash to employ a personal trainer for a bit? If you can find someone who's had the requisite training (physio etc etc) then they might be able to suggest some suitable exercises & give you some pointers on your posture. Even just one or two short sessions might make a big difference.
posted by pharm at 5:05 AM on October 29, 2010

Thanks for everyone's encouragement about not feeling embarassed in public. That did help *a lot*. It has been a month now and I am walking on avg. 25 mins a day and not feeling hardly any pain. (Some days my hips still hurt a little but not enough to make me stop). I'm going farther and farther every week and keeping a log as someone suggested helped a lot. My phone's GPS and a pedometer app made it fun to track myself on a map so it didn't seem a chore.

I alternated 2 days on and 1 day off for the first two weeks and that helped a lot. Doing the 10-15-20-15-20-15-10 kind of thing someone mentioned. That is what helped the most I think.

New shoes. Dedicated walking shoes professionally fitted (instead of cheap walmart knock offs) helped too.

It is only 25 mins a day but already I feel better and can see myself going further and further and more importantly wanting to. For the first time in my life I understand that thing where you miss exercise if you don't get it in during your day. Something I always laughed at.

So thanks for all the great advice and encouragement again.
posted by kanata at 3:57 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

fuckin awesome. i'm glad to hear that.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:34 PM on November 27, 2010

posted by yarly at 2:25 PM on November 29, 2010

Good job!!!!
posted by kestrel251 at 7:39 PM on April 3, 2011

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