How can an extremely obese and underconditioned man begin exercising?
January 2, 2007 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Is walking at your normal walking rate, but increasing the distance you walk, sufficient enough to be considered exercise? Can anyone recommend exercises for people who are very underconditioned and extremely obese, but not in poor cardiac health? And, finally, is there a medical professional who is the equivalent of a gym's personal trainer? (More inside.)

I'm an extremely obese man; my weight now borders on 350 pounds. I do understand that this is an unhealthy situation for me, and as both a longstanding project and a New Year's resolution, I am trying to get myself down to a manageable weight. (I am posting this anonymously because I don't wish to acknowledge the extent of my obesity or my underconditioning publicly, where it could be Googled, and I also discuss a bit of my medical history below.)

Weight loss, at its most essential element, is burning more calories than you take in; for a long time, I have only attacked that problem from the perspective of reducing intake, instead of adding exercise to my routine. I wish to do the latter now. The problem is that thanks to my weight, exercise is extremely difficult. Even walking up one flight of stairs is enough to take the wind out of my sails. I tried swimming, as I heard that this was a kinder exercise process to obese people, but found it to be extremely difficult as well. When I say "difficult," please know I am aware that exercise is not supposed to be an easy process, but at the same time, you obviously need to be able to sustain a level of exercise for a period of time in order for it to be any good. I cannot walk stairs continuously, and I don't think I can swim continuously, either.

My thoughts about how I might best improve the situation is by increasing the amount of walking I do per day: I have already been walking approximately 0.5 miles each way to and from work, which means I'm walking a mile already. My thought was that by getting off at earlier stops on the subway, I could increase the amount of distance I walk each day. However, if my memory serves me correctly, exercise isn't "exercise" unless you are not able to sing, but still can talk, when you are exercising. I'm concerned that merely increasing the distance I walk will not be sufficient to be "exercise," and yet I'm not sure where to go from here in terms of getting myself from an underconditioned, extremely unhealthy situation to one where I can begin exercising routinely. Would it be sufficient to just start walking longer distances at a normal rate, and then eventually segue into walking those distances more quickly?

As a side note, my heart, as far as I know, is fine. I conducted both a stress test and an echocardiogram in the fall of 2006, and both indicated that there were no blockages in my heart or reasons to be concerned about it. I'm 32 years old, and that works in my favor.

So, to boil down this post to its basics: is walking at your normal walking rate, but increasing the distance you walk, sufficient enough to be considered exercise? Can anyone recommend exercises for people who are very underconditioned and extremely obese, but not in poor cardiac health?

And, finally, is there a medical professional who is the equivalent of a gym's personal trainer? I'm entirely unwilling to shell out mercenary rates to a personal trainer, nor has any personal trainer I've ever interacted with been interested in doing anything more for me than trying to sell me on an extended lesson plan; that having been said, I would like to turn to a medical professional to assist me in designing a workout that could assist me in getting back in better shape. I, however, have no idea what field that professional would be in.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
walking is cool, but you'll never lose significat weight from it. if you don't like personal trainers, talk to a sports MD. going from 350 pounds to non-obese requires a lot of work: diet, exercise, etc, and may not even be enough.

I suppose that at 350 pounds there's not much exercise you can do; you need lose weight first (diet and/or gastric surgery), get in cardio/muscular shape later.
posted by matteo at 8:40 AM on January 2, 2007

For what it's worth, a friend dropped 25-40lbs in the space of a year or so by going from a mostly sedentary existence to walking for 30 minutes 3 times a day.
posted by Good Brain at 8:48 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

May I suggest that you seek the help of a medical professional in weight loss? I don't know where you are, but I can recommend the professionals at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Wellness Center. They have physicians, nutritionists, health psychologists, and exercise physiologists, all of whom exist to make your weight loss experience positive. I am truly sorry you had such terrible experiences with personal trainers; I have been very lucky with all the trainers I worked with at the Metropolitan Club Fitness Center in the Sears Tower.
posted by Not in my backyard at 8:49 AM on January 2, 2007

Go to your regular doctor and get a referral to a physical therapist. Your insurance will surely cover this. (I am assuming you are insured.)

I am seeing one regularly for back pain, but part of the plan is weight loss. (About 30 pounds.) I don't go as often as I would a trainer, but the therapist shows me exercises which I incorporate into my routine. As I do one set for a month or so, he changes it or adds to it.

Don't hesitate, see your doctor. In your condition, it would be rare for an insurance company to deny anything a doctor would recommend to get you in better shape. It's less risk for them in the long run.

To answer your specific question: YES, adding distance burns more calories. But it doesn't get into aerobic workout. Sustaining a target heartrate is aerobic. But any walking is great.

As far as other exercises: bike riding is always good, and elliptical machines can gives a good full workout in a short time.

For my back, I am currently doing some exercises which my physical therapist showed me which are great for anyone to strengthen core muscles, but are especially good for back issues. They don't look like much. They all can be done lying on the floor (while I watch a movie or TV) and involve stengthening abs and back muscles, stretching hamstrings, and some repetitive leg movement. "Easy" to do in the sense that you can move at your own pace, and you can easily do 20 to 30 minutes without feeling like you will pass out. But at the end, I have always worked up a sweat, and the next day I can tell I worked out. ("Sore in a good way.")

If you want the specifics of the exercises, e-mail me and I will track down or write out some specific instructions for you.

But your best bet is to trust your own physical therpist's advice above mine. Good luck! I know it's hard work just looking at losing the 30 pounds in my goal, so I wish you the best to persevere and succeed! :)
posted by The Deej at 8:49 AM on January 2, 2007

Last year I did a weight-loss program at a local university that came with a nutritionist and a fitness coordinator (more than a personal trainer - she works in conjunction with the nutritionist, not at a gym, and she is professionally trained with advanced degrees) and walking was a huge component of it. They gave me a pedometer and encouraged me to use it in order to work in exercise as part of my daily routine. I have a hard time motivating myself to go to the gym, and the pedometer is really just what I needed.

Initially, I wore the pedometer for a week to establish my base rate - that is, how much I walk in a day without any extra effort. It was about 5,000 steps per day. Then, each week, I had to go up by 10% until I was up to 10,000 - 11,000 steps per day. And it IS stuff like getting off the subway early and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. I lost 10 pounds in about six months. I know that sounds slow, but the nutritionist was really pleased - being a woman and 5'1", she told me that it'd be hard for me to lose weight quickly because I am so short and any severe cutting back of calories would just make me frustrated and hungry.

I fell off the wagon a bit because I keep breaking pedometers, but it really does work. I also have a weight-training routine that I do at home that has helped as well. The program's emphasis was on baby steps, little changes that you do so that over time, gradually, your habits become more healthy and better for you.

I'm not sure if it's OK to link to the program I did or not - as a full disclosure, I got a massive discount because I work at the same university. If you are in Massachusetts, drop me an email at meghanbkelly at gmail dot com and I can let you know where it was. (that goes for anyone else interested too!) It was really beneficial and I would recommend it to anyone.
posted by sutel at 8:49 AM on January 2, 2007

Anecdotally, I can say that the extra walking will help get you to a point where you can sustain more vigorous activity. Don't feel bad if it takes a while, you're not used to it, and your system needs time to adjust to the higher level of activity.

At some point, on the way home, walk faster, thus exerting more instantaneous effort.

FWIW, I know someone who, in the last year, shed significant weight from only slight diet modification and an hour of fast walking on a treadmill several times a week. He's still not svelte, by any means, but he's much smaller and feels a whole lot better. Now if only I could motivate myself to do the same! ;)
posted by wierdo at 8:51 AM on January 2, 2007

Call your doctor. He/she can help you find the right kind of program and trainer for you - and it could possibly even be covered by insurance.

Walking progressively further than you would normally walk is exercise! Sure, it's not going for a run, or walking at a faster pace - but it's burning more calories that you would have otherwise burned regardless.

Go get some good shoes!
Go to a doctor!
Keep walking!

Oh - and congratulations on taking a big step (pardon the pun)!!!
posted by matty at 8:55 AM on January 2, 2007

I think increasing the walking is a great idea if you do it consistently. I think that with a lot of weight to lose the key is to find something you can keep doing, and to build activity into your daily life - getting off the subway earlier seems a smart way to do that.

It's true that low intensity exercise won't condition your heart and lungs as much as something tougher, but it will burn calories (about 100 a mile on average, probably quite a bit more for you) and it will get you moving and build up your endurance.

I don't understand matteo's pessimism about your situation, or the idea that if it isn't hurting it isn't working. If you cut 400 calories a day from your diet, and burn another 400+ by walking two miles in the morning and two in the evening you will lose weight. You’ll also be more likely to stick at something you feel you can succeed at.

I can't help with the specific doctor recommendation, but I think that if I were you I'd want to find a GP who was interested in diet and exercise and supportive of your plan.

Good luck.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:58 AM on January 2, 2007

A friend lost 80 lb last year by restricting intake (his wife used to cook with a lot of butter), and walking quite a bit more each day (1 hr on treadmill, four days a week). Really, *any* exercise, at your level is good. The "talk but not sing" thing is more for people who are trying to lose the last ten pounds and need to be precise about it.

If regular walking weren't enough to burn calories, then I wouldn't have lost eight pounds in a week-long road trip just by hiking (I tended to eat more than usual while driving).
posted by notsnot at 8:58 AM on January 2, 2007

I know you say you're male, and this is a roundabout way of answering a question about walking, but check out, especially the content related to the topics of weight loss and weight training myths.

I also found Stumptuous via an AskMe thread, and, without obnoxiously self-linking to my own weight loss-related blog, I'll just say it's been wonderful for me. Do some reading and get a free weight set (or even just some heavy dumbbells if you want to try it out for a while before you invest more heavily). Weight training will knock the fat right off of you. You'll also see inches fall off (measure when you get started) and see appreciable strength gains quickly, which is very encouraging and empowering in and of itself. I started with 10# and 15# dumbbells not quite a month ago; they seemed unbelievably heavy at first, but now I'm using a 20# set.

Oh, and it may be considered anaerobic, but my heart sure is hammering after I finish doing a few sets. :) Combine that with some mild cardio--such as walking--and you're practically guaranteed success. Good luck!
posted by littlegreenlights at 9:01 AM on January 2, 2007

And, finally, is there a medical professional who is the equivalent of a gym's personal trainer?

Maybe a sports physiologist or an MD that specializes in sport medicine? Usually these professionals help athletes overcome injuries and improve performance and such.

I would say to see a doctor that has a knowledge of obesity.

So, to boil down this post to its basics: is walking at your normal walking rate, but increasing the distance you walk, sufficient enough to be considered exercise?


For what it's worth, I say to keep walking. Increasing distance is faulous. Take it slow, keep at it, and increase more distance when you can.

Can anyone recommend exercises for people who are very underconditioned and extremely obese, but not in poor cardiac health?

I found this, and it also mentions an exericise personality I was going to mention: Leslie Sansone. If videos are your cup of tea it would be worth a try. She is hugely popular. I used to frequent an exercise board, and people just love her. My very fit, young mother who is a runner just bought one of her DVD's to work out with also. So, they're not entirely wimpy.

Good luck and health to you!
posted by LoriFLA at 9:05 AM on January 2, 2007


posted by LoriFLA at 9:06 AM on January 2, 2007

Definitely go with the walking; just be aware that it takes a lot of exercise to burn a significant amount of calories, so watching what you eat remains a significant part of your weight loss plan. You may well find that as you begin to lose weight and get in shape your energy and tolerance for exercise will increase surprisingly fast. In the past year I have dropped 70 pounds (280 to 210) and hope to lose 30 to 40 more; it really was much easier than I thought it would be. The main things I have done are: Take the stairs at work; my office is one floor below the operating room where I work, so I am up and down stairs all day long. I switched to diet soft drinks; I drink a lot of them, so that was good for a few hundred calories a day off my intake. I eat the same foods as I always have, but try to take smaller portions and rarely go back for seconds. If I am really hungry I try to load up on vegetables as they really are good for you and have relatively little calories. I have no interest in any kind of special diet, and I have not tried any kind of exercise, although I have thought about it.

There is a lot of good advice in this column, so I won't rehash it, but good luck. I know I feel much better, my clothes fit (I am wearing smaller jeans now than I have since college), and I get complimented all the time. Also, as a physician I felt guilty about being obese when I know all of the problems it would eventually cause me; I was not setting a good example. Just be patient; the weight didn't get there overnight and won't come off overnight either.
posted by TedW at 9:10 AM on January 2, 2007

At 350lbs, walking is plenty of exercise. Moving 350lbs at 3 mph is not unlike moving 150lbs at 10mph...

ALL EXERCISE IS EXERCISE. Walking up ONE stair will help (a bit). Walking TEN FEET further than you otherwise would will help (a bit).

So don't fret. Walk, because that's what you can do and it will tire you out. Walk until you're good and tired. Keep it up. When you don't get tired in the amount of time you have available to exercise, start moving faster - do a fast walk, that'll get you tired. Then a lumber. Then a jog. Then a run. Do one flight of stairs if that makes you tired. Eventually you'll be able to do two, then do two. Then you'll be able to do 3, so do 3.

It all adds up.
posted by jellicle at 9:13 AM on January 2, 2007

anon, sorry one of my links is broken. I linked to the The American Society of Bariatric Physicians. I also linked to VHS tapes instead of DVD's. Is there anybody on the planet that still uses VHS?

Again, good luck and a healthy 2007!
posted by LoriFLA at 9:14 AM on January 2, 2007

Walking more may not make a difference for someone 20 pounds or 20 kilos overweight, but for you it would. Also, what is more? I knew someone who got a job walking all day delivering mail. He went from ordinary skinnyfat to definitely significantly skinnier.

It's not true that you have to exercise continuously or lengthily to get a benefit. Continuous and lengthy are good, yes, but bursts build muscle, and muscle burns calories. Many threads here about that kind of thing. Start with squats, even one per session, even if it isn't very low. Hold that squat. Do it a few times a day if you can only do one. Lift some heavy stuff. Work up to doing it 12-15 times per session. Work up to lunges. Those are genius: they work much of your body at one time.

All kinds of little things add up. The difference between teaching (standing up and moving around a classroom) and sitting a computer has been detrimental to me over just a period of 5 years. You wouldn't think a classroom teacher is getting exercise (I didn't realize at the time), but it's way more than being locked to the keyboard. Walking is good.
posted by Listener at 9:18 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

YOu pointed oput yourself that you need to restrict intake and burn more calories. Any movement, and walking is good movement, will burn more calories.

Wall Street Journal article from today that is really basic, but I get from it that every little bit helps and all sustained changes are usually incremental not radical.

As absurd as it might seem, I would consider calling my health insurance provider to one of their nurse practitioners and ask them who you could see professionally that is covered. I know they would prefer to cover a person who is trying to lose weight rather than a 350lb person who is not doing anything.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:24 AM on January 2, 2007

I'm not an expert, but I do watch my own diet and exercise routine rather carefully so I hope I can give you some useful pointers.

You are already on the right track when you point out that weight loss is burning more calories than you take in. Your plan, as I'm sure you realize, is to cut calorie intake while also burning off the existing calories being stored in your body.

To answer your question simply, yes: walking counts as exercise. Perhaps not aerobic exercise, but it does burn calories and that is your goal. Doing little things like taking the stairs when you can, walking further than you usually do and so on will help. It is not the key to major weight loss, but it will help you get started, and that's important.

For now, cutting calories is going to help you perhaps more than you realize. You don't have to cut a lot: given a basal matabolic rate of about 2500 calories for a 350-pound male of average height, a standard 2,000 calorie diet will leave you with a calorie deficit of 500 per day. That works out to a pound of fat loss per week! As matteo points out, the initial weight loss from this will help you to exercise more, which will in turn help you burn more calories, which will in turn enable you to exercise more and so on.

Also, pay attention to what you eat. Lean proteins will leave you feeling full so you don't feel the need to graze often. Fruits and vegetables will provide your body with the vitamins it needs to keep you energized.

A couple of resources that might help you:

I find fitday to be immensely helpful in watching what I eat. You'd be surprised what and how much of it you eat but mentally discount until you force yourself to write it all down!

I also found the book Fat Wars by Brad King to be helpful. It basically describes the scientific reasons for the good old-fashioned diet-and-exercise process of weight loss in layperson's terms, and goes into some very interesting stuff on what kinds of foods and exercise are most beneficial and why. I like it because it gives a lot of information on how the body works, as opposed to instructions for one gimmicky diet plan.

Finally, the soyowanna on weight loss is quite good at spelling out the basic mechanics and mathematics of losing weight. It's not as in depth as the Fat Wars book, it does have the benefit of being free.

So, here's my non-expert, purely anecdotal advice: really watch what you eat and cut your calories. Do exercise in little bits as much as you can: walking is great for this. Then move up to more ambitious exercise like fitness walking and weight training.

Congratulations on taking the initiative here! Be patient and persistent, and before you know it you'll be looking and feeling much better. I wish you the best of luck!

One more thing, on preview: you sound kind of down on yourself in your OP. Don't beat yourself up so much! 350 isn't that bad. You're losing weight because you deserve to be healthy, not because you're worthless at your current size. Now go show up all those other New Year's resolution-breakers!
posted by AV at 9:26 AM on January 2, 2007

What was it about the swimming that you found difficult? There are lots of different ways you can exercise in water without actually having to swim.

My pool offers several different cardio classes in the water, including both shallow and deep water work with floaty bar-bells for resistance, and a shallow water aerobics class. These classes have the goal of raising your heart rate for an hour of physical activity, and aren't very difficult to keep up with, even for a beginner. They are easy on the joints, if you have any knee or hip problems.

If you don't like the idea of a class of that nature, challenge yourself to keep moving for an hour in the pool. Perhaps the thing you found difficult was co-ordinating arms and legs with forward travel in the water -- if so, try doing laps with a kickboard, or treading water instead.

Do you monitor your heart rate while walking? Some people above say that adding distance to your walk won't help you, but if your fitness level is such that your heart rate elevates to your target level, it's cardio exercise for you even if it wouldn't be for someone else.

I hope you find something you enjoy that works for you!
posted by Sallyfur at 9:34 AM on January 2, 2007

walking is cool, but you'll never lose significat weight from it.

Tell my dad that. He lost a lot of weight (at least 50 lbs, but I'm not sure of the exact #) through diet (nothing too strict, basically cutting out unnecessary fats and desserts) and walking 45 - 60 minutes every day after work. Sometimes he'd walk on his lunch break too. Now he also bikes once a week or so on weekends, but yeah...walking and being more aware of what he was eating pretty much did it. He walks briskly now, but when he started, his only goal was to just make it around the route he planned. He lives about 1/2 mile from the water, so he'd walk down around there, and then back to the house. I've mapped it, and its a little under 2 miles.

I suppose that at 350 pounds there's not much exercise you can do; you need lose weight first (diet and/or gastric surgery), get in cardio/muscular shape later.

I also take issue with this. He's already walking a mile a day, so he's not bedridden, obviously. (Actually, if you do walk a mile a day already without any major problems, you're probably in better shape than you give yourself credit for!) If you can exercise, exercise. Surgery should be a last resort. I'm not saying don't diet (in fact, I am suggesting that you eat healthier, in whatever way you and/or your doc decides), but there's no reason why you can't start walking more today.

Like others have said, don't worry about the intensity right now, just make a decision (this week I will walk 1.5 miles a day) and do it. Every week or two, add a bit more, or aim to make it in a shorter amount of time. You'll probably up the intensity and distance without realizing it as you get healthier.
posted by AlisonM at 9:39 AM on January 2, 2007

Walking's great exercise, I know people who are in great shape with walking as their only exercise, plus you're going slowly enough to take in the world, you don't feel like you're going to cough up a lung and your joints might not be failing within the decade.
You will use a lot more calories than a thinner person but perhaps more importantly it'll also get you back into the idea of regular exercise which means (a) you can move onto other stuff once you get fitter and (b) you'll feel better which will help with motivation, etc as well as being good in itself.
posted by biffa at 9:49 AM on January 2, 2007

For most of the stuff here, amen and amen. That extra bit of walking will clearly help.

If you're really motivated, you might consider water aerobics. Yes, it is usually a bunch of old ladies, but the health benefits might make the social stigma worthwhile. The water provides some boyancy which makes standing easy for long periods of time, but the resistance of the water can make it a real workout. It might be just the ticket for your situation. Where swimming really taxes your lungs (which I am presuming is the difficulty), water aerobics allows you to breathe without restriction. And don't let the old ladies fool you: water aerobics can be a real workout. You'll get that good muscle burn that lets you know you're burning calories and building muscle: double whammy!

Of course, ask your doctor first.
posted by terceiro at 9:49 AM on January 2, 2007

If you want to get technical about whether or not your walking is good exercise to lose weight get yourself a heart rate monitor and wear it while walking. It will allow you to see, while you are exercising, if you are exercising at the best intensity and to increase/decrease your pace as required to maintain that intensity. The easy visual feedback the heart rate monitor provides will make it a lot easier to stay in the right training zone.

Heart rate monitors are available down around $40 (but make sure you get one with a chest strap transmitter as models that measure at the wrist are wildly innacurate). Wikipedia has a good introduction to the subject.
posted by ssg at 9:59 AM on January 2, 2007

Another thing to keep in mind when figuring out how helpful th extra walking will be is, What would you be doing if you got home earlier? I know that I can be a horrible after-work snacker, and so getting home a bit later with a good "I just exercised" buzz tends to keep me away from the cheese and crackers and TV and more in a "flitting about the house and making a healthy dinner" mood. The good effects of the exercise may extend beyond the exercise itself.
posted by occhiblu at 10:24 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Walking is decent excercise, expecially for the obese. For one thing, it is fairly low risk (in terms of joint shock, muscle strain, and other physical ailments), and for people who are out of shape, it is vital to be our own physicians first, and "do no harm" to ourselves as we try to improve our lives. Nothing will stop a nascent excercise program faster than an injury. It's also a flexible means of adding activity into your daily routine. You can frequently choose to add a bit of walking to many activities, and don't need to change clothes, or shower immediately afterward. So, there's a better likelihood you'll continue to extend your walking program, than there is you'll add additional time to other programs.

But managing motivation is key. More conditioning programs fail on lack of motivation than due to injury or lack/slowness of result. For maintaining motivation in a walking program, I recommend getting, or at least borrowing, a dog. A young dog of your own is a 10 to 15 year committment to a walking program, and a powerful constant, daily motivator to go for the walks that help you stay on track. Owning a dog is a committment to an active life, and a reciprocal care agreement that works both ways; you agree to foot some annual vet bills, to feed and house the dog, and the dog agrees to get you out of the house, come rain or come shine. It's the best and oldest kind of fitness partnership, and one I recommend highly.

But even if you can't "have" a dog of your own, you might find a neighbor that would be willing for your to stop by 5 or 6 times a week, and take their dog for a walk. This is the "no committment" form of setting up a dog based excercise program, but it can be a surprisingly pleasant and interesting thing to do, and if you live in major cities, it could even be an avocation that pays. A friend of mine works several evenings a week as one of a group of dog walkers in D.C., precisely because it pays as well as most part time jobs she's had, and gets her more excercise.

Also, even though George Carlin made a lot of money dissing walking magazines, consider subscribing to those that remain, or at least their e-mail lists. I think it helps when starting a new activity, to be reading about it, too.
posted by paulsc at 10:41 AM on January 2, 2007

Go to your regular doctor and get a referral to a physical therapist. Your insurance will surely cover this. (I am assuming you are insured.)

I can assure you that this is not the case. Some insurances will simply deny any claims that have a weight loss diagnosis code.

Call your insurance company to confirm that it would be covered, because without that, you won't really have a guarantee.
posted by gregschoen at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2007

Walking on a treadmill is what modeling agencies tell their models to do to stay thin. It's a fantastic way to lose weight, I'm surprised so many people here are saying it won't work. For example I'm already pretty thin but when I started to walk 45 minutes each way to my job just for fitness I lost an additional 20 lbs! If you walk one hour per day I guarantee you will lose weight and lots of it. Plus you will see lots of cool stuff.

I try to walk 5+ miles about 3 or 4 days a week. I have a few favourite hikes at local parks but if I don't have time then I just walk out my front door and go for an hour or two on the city streets. On the weekends we go to nearby state parks or the beach and go hiking. I was a big runner before injuring my knee and with all the walking I'm doing I haven't relly lost any fitness from quitting running.

A trainer would be good but if you get good shoes and start out on level ground (for your joints) you can't really go wrong. If blocking off time to walk is a problem start walking to the store etc. You'd be surprised how quickly that impossibly long 20 minute walk to the store becomes something you don't even think about.
posted by fshgrl at 11:41 AM on January 2, 2007

I wanted to address the swimming thing, too, since you seemed a little sorry that it didn't work out. Water aerobics is a good option, but just plain swimming is awesome, too. And it is very hard at first--even people who are in great shape on land can be in terrible shape in the water. So if you want to swim, get in and swim one length of the pool, rest, then do it again. If you can only do a few at first and you have to rest for a minute in between each instance, that's okay. If you want to wear fins, that's okay, too. Just keep doing it and bringing down the times you rest or bringing up the distance you go. Even the top swimmers in the world don't just swim continuously.
posted by dame at 11:44 AM on January 2, 2007

My doctor told me that to have a noticeable effect on health, you should walk for at least 45 minutes without stopping for any significant period of time.

And yes, you can lose weight walking. I dropped 15 pounds in 6 weeks by doing a whole lot of walking, while eating more than usual.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:08 PM on January 2, 2007

Over the past 6 months I've lost 65 pounds. I was around your weight when I started so you can do the math on that. To repeat what everyone else in the world says about losing weight/getting healthier it's about food and exercise.

First the food part. I use Weight Watchers online program because calculating food value as points is a lot easier for me than trying to figure out how much to eat, not to eat, etc based just on the nutrition info on food labels. More specifically it's easier to keep track of eating 28 points per day instead of 1800 calories per day. Foods are assigned points based on calories, fat and fiber content. It's easy for me to remember that the granola bars I really like are 2 points and a cup of orange juice is 2 points and maple & brown sugar instant oatmeal is 3 points, 6 inch turkey sub is 5 points, etc. The online WW database has a ton of food in it with points values already listed or you can just plug in the calories, fat & fiber values. I'm not a shill for WW, I have a lot of issues with them, their advertising and the things they emphasize but the points program has really worked for me so it would be silly of me not to mention it.

The exercise part. I started out by walking my dog two miles a day, one mile in the morning & one mile in the evening. My dog is quite small and doesn't walk very fast so the two miles weren't (and aren't) strenuous in the least. But my body was moving, it wasn't at rest. It needed energy to walk those miles, so it burned food fuel. After a couple weeks of the two miles a day I started adding a third mile on Saturdays & Sundays. Then I started going to the gym. 20 minutes on the treadmill at about 2.7 miles per hour, 3 times a week. Fast forward a couple months I had increased my speed, worked up to walking 4 miles a day on the weekends. Fast forward to now I was between 2-4 miles every day, do 30-40 minutes on the treadmill at between 3.2-3.5 miles per hour 3 or 4 times a week, have a free weight routine that I do 3 times a week and am constantly adding more activity to my routine.

That was a really long answer to basically say that yes, yes, yes walking is exercise. Start adding as much activity, including walking, as you can into your daily routine. It makes a difference. The more you do, the better you feel and the more you want to do. It's a very rewarding cycle. Obviously I've got a lot more weight to lose and even though the number is big I'm not intimidated of weary because I feel really good. When I was at my heaviest I felt ok most of the time, crappy a good part of the time and very rarely did I feel really good. I hated getting up everyday, I just wanted to sleep. Now I'm not an extreme morning person but I enjoy getting my mile walk in before work so I get up relatively easily so I can do that.
posted by mjones at 12:08 PM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, MSN is hyping a "Walk the Fat Off" plan this month, and they have some advice for how to make walking your main exercise activity. I have no real opinion on or experience with any of it, but if you're looking for expert opinions or advice, it might be worth checking out. It looks like it's geared toward beginners.
posted by occhiblu at 12:15 PM on January 2, 2007

The key (as told to me by two personal trainers) is not just distance but pace. A good benchmark for aerobic exercise zones is exercising at a pace where you can have a conversation, but couldn't sing. Slower than that pace is not enough. Faster than that pace is getting into anaerobic systems.

Another important key is to expand your time distance or intensity by no more than 10% a week. Running guru John Bingham notes that 10% a week sustained consistently over a year is enough to run/walk a marathon.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:25 PM on January 2, 2007

walking is great. Also, i second getting a set of dumbells. There are a million routines you can do with just two dumbells - most of which you can do while watching TV.

and a tip that worked for a friend - eat a big healthy breakfast and skip dinner - or go real light. Also - never eat before you sleep.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 12:39 PM on January 2, 2007

I think there is some excellent information in this thread but one thing that seems a bit overlooked is emphasis on changing your lifestyle instead of 'going on a diet'. Over the past 6 months or so I've lost some nice handfuls of fat and lots of people have noticed. At first I was legitimately trying to lose weight although I never considered myself to be on a diet. The hardest part was changing my habits but now that that is mostly done I don't really feel like I'm trying anymore but the fat keeps going away.

A food diary is very useful. I tracked everything I ate for a few months until I had a good idea what foods I had to limit or replace altogether. Don't force yourself to eat rice cakes if you don't want to, find alternative foods that you actually like. That way when you start getting comfortable with the weight loss and start slacking you are less likely to go back to the unhealthy foods.

I really like the suggestion to walk a dog. At 1 mile a day you shouldn't be to the point where you're bored with walking. Eventually that is likely to happen. I just got a dog last month and she demands a nice long walk every day. Rain or shine, I take her out for at least 45 minutes every night. Once you get your miles up a bit you might be interested in learning about walking meditation. Might as well work on a healthy mind at the same time as you work on your healthy body. Walking by Henry David Thoreau is a short book you might find beneficial. It is in free and available many places online should the above linked version disappear at some point.
posted by J-Garr at 1:06 PM on January 2, 2007

Someone recommended fitday - I used them for years, and while it's nice, I switched to and it's sooo much better.

Walking is great exercise, especially if you don't do it much already. An easy way to get in more walking is park far away from the entrance to a store when you go. Not only will you get over the stress of finding a "good" spot, you'll get exercise and you'll be less likely to have your car hit by a bad driver ;)

I nth the suggestions to talk to a doctor. Any exercise or diet program will suggest you talk to your doctor before starting a program - it's good advice.

At your weight, you are likely eligible for lapband - you may or may not be interested. A close relative who was around 350lbs, just had the surgery, and is on a diet, is incredibly pleased with the results. I opted for diet and exercise only, and we're both doing pretty well. It's not for everyone, but it may help you get to the point where you can exercise more.

Best of luck!
posted by jesirose at 1:17 PM on January 2, 2007

Response by poster: Walking is definitely exercise. There are lots of good recommendations here about that. Just make a goal to walk a little more each day, and aim for 30 min a day, 4-5 times a week (or more when you work up to that). Eat healthier, yadda yadda yadda.

NIMBY touched on a very good point with his personal trainer recommendation. Not all gyms are created equal. Gyms/"Wellness Centers" run by hospitals or universities often cater far more to the overweight/rehabilitation set than the gym-bunny-tanned-ripped-abs people. Regular people just looking to get fit go to them, but they're also there to give hospital doctors a more well-rounded treatment plan for patients. Another one is the Borgess Health & Fitness Center in Kalamazoo, MI--I went it as just a normal gym and the people there were very professional and friendly, not at all buy-this-lesson-plan-now-for-chrissake.
posted by Anonymous at 3:02 PM on January 2, 2007

I'd advise a stationary bike in addition to the walking - you can go at whatever pace you're currently capable of, you can do it at home while you do other things like reading or watching TV, and it supports a good portion of your weight, which should help you to sustain your effort, especially in the earlier stages.
posted by concrete at 11:14 PM on January 2, 2007

hey, been there, I'm a 5'4" woman 250 lbs, middle-aged and getting back in shaping after years of sedentary living. I strongly recommend Covert Bailey's book and/or DVD called "Smart Exercise". He is the only expert I have found (so far) that applies the same principles that trainers use with athletes -- only modified for the limitations of the obese body. Actually the book is written for everybody, not just obese people. My friend, and experienced marathoner, found great tips in it for improving endurance. I've been following his principles for 4 months and have experienced significant results. Not so many pounds dropped yet, maybe 10, but I'm way stronger and fitter, and able to work out more and more effectively each week. I work out on a treadmill, so I can tell from the digital readout and my own perception of effort that my fitness level is increasing significantly.
Covert is not a big proponent of walking - he much prefers jogging/running for weight loss... but stay with me... His argument is very sound (I have validated with medical people). You need to work the large muscles of thighs and buttocks in order to get the desired fat-burning effect from aerobic exercise. Walking works, but it takes way longer, because walking uses mostly the small muscles of the feet and ankles; and this is a huge problem when you're very heavy, since the old feet, ankles, and knees can only take so much. Obviously I can't set off jogging, at my size, but I have adapted my "walking" style to incorporate Covert's advice by changing my gate so it's more of a shuffle, so that I'm using my thigh muscles to push off each stride, instead of my feet and ankles. I go really slow and hardly lift my feet off the ground, so I'm not killing my joints, but I'm definitely getting the systemic effects. It's not elegant -- think Dustin Hoffman shuffling beside Tom Cruise in Rainman -- but it is extremely effective and easy on the body. There are also other great tips in that book like how to use interval training techniques to "wake up" the sedentary body. The biggest challenge is getting over that hump - that period of initial effort during which your body just doesn't recover as quickly as it should, doesn't burn fat, only sugar stores... Covert explains the chemistry of exercise and makes it clear how you can get yourself over that hump. I can't tell you how useful it's been.
posted by Halston401 at 2:58 PM on May 28, 2007

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