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The Role of Exercise in Treating Obesity

What is obesity?
Obesity is defined as the condition of being very overweight and having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher. The BMI is a measure of your weight relative to your height. You can find your BMI from a chart.

Your waist size is also important. It is a measure of your abdominal fat. Your health risks, especially for diabetes and heart disease but also some cancers, increase as your BMI and your waist size get larger. A waist measurement greater than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women indicates a significant increase in health risk.

Nearly one third of adults are obese. It is a serious condition because it increases your risk of poor health and major illness.


How does exercise help in the treatment of obesity?
The goal of treatment for obesity is weight loss. Exercise is an essential part of any weight-loss program and should become a permanent part of your lifestyle. The benefits of exercise can include:

  • burning off calories and losing weight
  • maintaining muscle tone
  • increasing your metabolic rate (the amount of calories your body burns 24 hours a day)
  • improving circulation
  • improving heart and lung function
  • increasing your sense of self-control
  • reducing your level of stress
  • increasing your ability to concentrate
  • improving your appearance
  • reducing depression
  • suppressing your appetite
  • helping you sleep better
  • preventing diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
  • decreasing your risk of some cancers, such as breast, ovary, and colon cancer

What type of exercise program is best for me?
Some people can lose weight by themselves, but most should seek help from a health care provider. Your provider will recommend the right kinds of exercise for you. Your provider may also refer you to a dietitian to plan your diet. A dietitian can teach you how to make healthier food choices and prepare meal plans that fit your specific diet needs. The goal of most diet and exercise plans is to help you lose 1 to 2 pounds a week.

As ways to gradually increase your physical activity, your provider may suggest that you:

  • Walk every day.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Do errands on foot, if possible. If you need to drive, park farther away and walk to your destination.
  • Go to a spa, gym, or exercise class. Water aerobic classes are especially good if you have back, knee, or joint problems.
  • Do some form of strength training using gym equipment or your own body weight. In addition to making your muscles stronger and able to work longer without getting tired, strength training helps you burn more energy when you are at rest. Muscle mass burns more calories than fat so as your muscle increases so does your ability to burn calories.

Walking is a great way for almost everyone to increase the amount of time they exercise. Using a pedometer can be fun and motivating. A pedometer is a device that attaches to your clothing and tracks how many steps you take in a day. A good goal is to work up to 10,000 steps a day (5 miles). If your provider agrees, try increasing your steps each week by 500 a day until you reach 10,000 steps a day.

As you begin to exercise more, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Your goal is to begin a routine of physical activity that can become an enjoyable part of your life. Choose activities you enjoy, can afford, and can fit into your schedule.
  • Use a chart that shows how many calories are burned in different physical activities to get ideas for types of exercise.
  • Consider bicycling, walking briskly, or exercising at home with videotapes if you don't like sports or gyms. Team sports that involve long periods of sitting between play--for example, bowling--do not provide the level of physical activity needed for the best results. Exercise videos and DVDs are available for all levels of fitness, including people with disabilities.
  • Build up slowly to a level of activity that makes you breathe more heavily, increases your heart rate, and makes you sweat. Do not do so much that you strain your muscles or feel dizzy or nauseated. Build up to exercising at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. Thirty-minute workouts are good for cardiovascular health. You will benefit even if the 30 minutes of activity are done in three 10-minute periods a day.
  • You may need at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise a day to prevent weight gain and 90 minutes a day to lose weight. Moderate aerobic exercise is generally defined as requiring the energy it takes to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes.
  • Do warm-up exercises or gentle stretches before exercising. Do cool-down exercises afterward.
  • Wear proper shoes and loose-fitting clothing.
  • Drink extra water or sports drinks such as Gatorade when you exercise strenuously or in hot weather.
  • Be sure to check with your health care provider before starting your exercise program.

To maintain your exercise program, follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid setting your expectations too high. Start out slowly and build your stamina gradually.
  • Find a friend to exercise with.
  • Avoid being competitive. Try to improve on your last effort instead of comparing yourself with someone else.
  • Recover completely from illness before resuming exercise. Then start with less exercise and increase the amount you do gradually to avoid injury.
  • Remember that exercise needs to be continued throughout your life. Don't try to be too intense. Enjoy getting healthy. Have fun.