Obesity Resource Center

Exercise Information

Why is Exercise so important?

If diet is the primary contributor to obesity, a lack of physical activity or exercise is the second most contributing factor. Sedentary lifestyles, which involve spending a majority of the day sitting, reclining, or lying down, are becoming commonplace for an increasing number of Americans due to shifts in culture, technology, and increasing convenience. A low daily energy expenditure means: excess calories and fat are not being burned off, blood circulation is limited, muscles are not engaged, and metabolic function remains sluggish. The lack of physical activity is taking a major toll on our health, according to the 2008 U.S. government guidelines, adults should be getting a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, yet research suggests that only of adults are meeting these weekly guidelines.

A lack of exercise puts you at risk for several common conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, mental disorders, certain cancers, and even early death. Elevating your heart rate for 30 minutes per day via cardio exercise is one of the best ways to improve your health and burn fat. For obese patients, performing cardio may be difficult initially, but with time and patience, stamina and endurance can be restored.


Calculating Your Heart Rate

Your heart rate is calculated in beats per minute (BPM). At rest, a rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute is considered normal and in fact, a lower heart rate while resting is a good sign, meaning that the heart doesn’t have to work so hard. You can use a FitBit or a number of wearable devices to monitor your heart rate while exercising or you can monitor it manually. Simply take your pulse by pressing on the on the thumb side of your wrist using the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) lightly over the artery. Use a 30 second timer and count your pulses, then multiply by two to get your BPM.

Target Heart Rate and Maximum Heart Rate

To get a quality cardio workout, you don’t need to push your heart to the max. All you need to do is elevate your heart rate to a safe, targeted amount and maintain it for 30-45 minutes each day.

Your maximum heart rate is generally calculated at 220 bpm minus your age. For instance, a 40 year old can find his or her maximum heart rate by subtracting 40 from 220, equaling 180. Then, he or she will want to aim for a target heart rate of 50-85% of 180, putting them in a range of 90-153 beats per minute during exercise.

Cardio for Obesity Treatment and Prevention

Low intensity exercise is great for obese patients or anyone who is starting an exercise routine after long periods of inactivity. Starting out with high intensity exercise can cause dizziness, stomach upset, physical injury, and can even overtax the heart. You’ll want to shoot for low intensity exercise that is around 60 percent of the maximum heart rate. Low intensity exercises include: walking, water aerobics, using a stationary bike, using an elliptical, step aerobics, some forms of dance, stretching, pilates, swimming, and light weight training. For obese or overweight patients, giving your body a chance to adjust to new activities is important, so be sure to keep a low volume workout schedule for 30 minutes every other day for gradual weight loss results.

*If low intensity exercise is introduced in conjunction with a healthier change in dietary habits, obese patients can see quick weight loss in the first few weeks and months.

Higher intensity exercise can begin within a few months depending on your level of comfort, overall conditioning, and number of pounds lost. At this point, extending your duration to 45-60 minutes per workout, or increasing your workouts to five or more days per week will accelerate fat burning. If you’ve lost weight via low intensity exercise but have hit a plateau (and you’re still overweight), it may be a good time to ramp up your cardio to meet a 60 percent maximum heart rate or above. High intensity exercise can involve a range of physical activities, a short list includes: running, jogging, cycling, speed walking, hiking, rock climbing, cross fit, skiing, boxing, kickboxing, stair climbing, squats, lunges, and more. High intensity cardio exercise can be performed in short intervals such as with sprint training. Swimming is also a great option for obese or overweight patients who need an option that is easy on the joints and great for mobility but still burns lots of calories.

Resistance Training

Resistance or strength training is notoriously underrated when it comes to weight loss strategies for the overweight and obese since the focus is primarily placed on losing fat, not building muscle. However, obese or overweight patients shouldn’t worry about tipping the scales by developing more muscle tissue, since strength training exercises build up necessary muscle mass that improves health and accelerates fat and calorie burning.

Low intensity resistance or strength training might include: low incline walking, resistance cycling, light weight lifting (2-5 lb. dumb bells), using kettlebells, rowing, situps, pushups, low level circuit training. Low intensity training can begin with 12-15 reps using lighter weights no more than 2-3 times per week. You’ll need time in between for muscle recovery and repair which is vital to proper muscle growth. It’ll be important to start at a weight that you’re comfortable with and gradually build strength. Using weights that are too heavy, too soon can damage muscle tissue, causing pain and setting your efforts back if injury occurs.

High intensity resistance training may utilize free weights, dumb bells, cables, suspension trainers, barbells and other forms of HIT (high intensity training). Since HIT is rather intense, physically fit individuals are more likely to perform this level of training. However, with time HIT  isn’t anything you can’t work up to, no matter where your starting level.


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