Derrick W. Spell, MD FACP
The Various Benefits of Exercise - Part 2
Updated: Feb 12, 2020
The numerous advantages of regular exercise are irrefutable. The first question for most people includes how to get started and what exercise to do. Fortunately, the answer is quite simple – you begin with walking. More than 10,000 individuals have participated in the National Weight Control Registry and 94% of them increased their physical activity to facilitate weight loss. (I am an official member of the Registry too!) In addition, most of these people report that “high levels of activity” are vital to weight maintenance. The most frequently described manner of increased activity is walking! (Even though I have maintained my weight for over 5 years now, I still regularly enjoy going for 45 minute walks)
When I was obese and overweight, I preferred walking as my exercise choice for several reasons. I knew that I could begin with short distances even though I was obese and out of shape. Walking was less demanding on my knees and lower back than other exercises. Most obese people suffer from joint troubles and I was no exception. I also knew from my previous weight loss endeavor that I enjoyed walking. T his may be the most important rationale because you need to enjoy the exercise you choose! Genuine satisfaction from physical activity will make it easier to create your exercise habit.
There are many other advantages of walking that warrant further discussion. Walking is cheap! Aside from a good pair of walking shoes, walking does not require you to purchase new equipment. You do not have to join a gym or fitness center. You can simply walk in or near your neighborhood. Furthermore, you can walk almost any time of day. This allows even the busiest of people to “find the time” they need. (I am also proof of that!) Walking can also be continued long-term without significant risk of injury. As your health improves, it is easy to increase the pace of walking and/or its duration for added benefit. Both the safety and accessibility of walking make it an exceptional exercise option, especially at the beginning.
If your budget will allow, I suggest that you purchase a treadmill. It does not need to be brand new or have all the newest features. It merely needs to have adjustable speed and incline. Owning a treadmill has several benefits. Walking outdoors is not always a good option. There are many days when the temperature outside may be too cold or too hot. Inclement weather can also occur at any time. Having a treadmill takes the physical elements out of your exercise equation. This part is key because it removed the possible excuse of weather or time. Having unlimited access to a treadmill will facilitate your efforts to continue walking and create a keystone habit. Any tactic that “shrinks the change” will improve your chances of success.
You are also more likely to start exercising if you invest in home equipment like a treadmill. A recent study of 205 inactive adults found that those with home exercise equipment were 73% more likely to begin exercising. At the beginning of your weight loss venture, convenience is critical. You are even more likely to use your treadmill if it is in a conspicuous location. Dr. Brian Wansink refers to this proximity as “making the invisible visible.” Having a convenient means of working out could be considered a vital behavior. Indeed, most weight masters on the National Weight Control Registry perform at least some of their weekly exercise with home equipment.
When you start walking, the initial pace is not very important. I suggest that you begin at a tempo that can be maintained for 30 minutes without discouragement or physical injury. It is acceptable if you can only walk for fifteen minutes at a time. I recommend that you start walking at least three or four times per week. If you have physical limitations, simply plan on walking more frequently. The key is to just start moving! At the beginning of your weight loss journey, the total minutes of weekly exercise is much more important than the duration of each workout session.
Physical activity is easier said than done for someone that is obese. The real dilemma is that almost every obese person is extremely out of condition. Most overweight people also have significant physical and orthopedic limitations. (I suffered from low back and knee pains when I was obese) Therefore, it is imperative that you start SLOWLY. I fully endorse the exercise recommendations for obese individuals from the American College of Sports Medicine. They suggest easing into your workout by starting slowly for the first five minutes. Next, they propose walking at a pace that allows you to talk without much trouble. They advise that you slow down for the last five minutes of exercise and finish with adequate stretching. They advocate working out four to five days a week for at least thirty minutes per session. By the way, this is exactly the way I started exercising.
In our next blog, we will complete our discussion on exercise.