I know you have this idea in your head that you want to lose the weight before you start exercising. You’re too heavy, and it hurts to exercise, you want to look good at the gym, you don’t want to “bulk up,” put on too much muscle until you’re closer to your goal weight.
Every one of these roadblocks to exercise can and should be removed today, particularly if you are very heavy. The sooner you move, the better and faster your recovery will be. The faster you put on muscle, the more efficient your metabolism will be. Every day that you work to build strength and strengthen the muscles that support your joints, the better you’ll move, feel, and sleep. The rewards come quickly. Exercise in a way that doesn’t hurt, and your energy will pick up within just a few days, your sleep will improve immediately. You’ll give your metabolism a boost. You’ll stop and perhaps reverse bone loss. Your clothes will hang better, and you’ll be more inclined to keep exercising. The effects are obvious, immediate, and cumulative.
But what if you hurt? I know I did. At my heaviest, I couldn’t walk very far without pain, had to be very careful not to overdo exercise or risk inducing a migraine. The hardest thing for me then was finding a way to exercise mildly and safely. Exercise physiologists pointed me toward the pool. In the pool I could kick laps, or strap on flotation belts and water walk without inflaming a hip, knee, or foot. It wasn’t easy putting myself in a bathing suit In front of strangers, but once I took a deep breath and crossed that barrier, getting in the pool every day was no big deal. I allowed myself to improve gradually. Eventually I could swim under my own power. Within a few months my body was strong enough to climb out of the pool and walk again. Within a year I could run. My self-consciousness about my body melted just by doing it anyway.
What about getting too bulky? This is usually a concern among women worried their extra weight will turn quickly to muscle and then become hard to lose. And that’s basically hooey. Your body doesn’t convert fat to muscle. Your body uses your fat for energy, and exercise will use more energy than you’re using now.
Besides, you want more muscle than you think you do, especially as you grow older or if you have a history of being heavy. Strong muscles don’t create much bulk at all. Strength training will speed up the use of excess fat, not slow it down. Strong muscles make strong bones. With extra body fat gone, even the strongest women are quite small, and they feel a whole lot better than their flaccid friends.
You build muscles by using muscles when you have adequate protein in your diet to protect and restore them after hard use. Building muscle is good. Muscle tissue hosts more insulin receptors, which help restore proper insulin sensitivity. Many of us who are heavy need help restoring our insulin response, making strength work an important part of our recovery.
If you worry about “bulking up,” review Tufts University researcher Dr. Miriam Nelson’s “Strong Women Stay Young” for help understanding the importance of strength training for women at any age, and to pick up her workout tips.
Does that help take down the barriers? No matter how heavy you are, no matter how challenging your health issues, don’t wait to exercise. Ask your doctor for help if you need it to find a way to move comfortably. However you need to do it, do it. Fitness can happen at any size, any age.