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Would you like to make physical activity a part of your life, but are not sure how to do it?
Good news—you can be active at any size—and have fun and feel good doing it!
Physical activity may seem difficult when you are overweight or obese. You may get short of breath quickly. Your feet or joints may hurt. It may be hard or costly to find the right clothes and equipment. And you may feel self-conscious working out in front of others.
Facing these challenges may be hard—but it can be done! This brochure will give you many tips and resources for being more active and healthier at any size.
WHY SHOULD I BE ACTIVE?
Physical activity may help you live longer and protect you from developing serious health problems, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Regular physical activity is linked to many health benefits. It helps you feel better because it may
When combined with a healthy eating pattern, regular physical activity may also help you control your weight.
Being active with others can be a lot of fun! It may give you a chance to meet new people or spend more time with family and friends.
HOW CAN I BE ACTIVE SAFELY?
The activities in this brochure are safe for most people. But if you have health concerns or any problems moving or being steady on your feet, talk to your health care provider before you start. See the box "Do I need to see my health care provider before I start?" for more information.
If you have been inactive for a while, start slowly and check how you are feeling. Avoid high-impact activities, as jumping and landing on a hard surface could lead to injury. Make your workouts harder and longer as you feel more comfortable.
Stay safe while working out. Slow down and stop if you see any of the warning signs in the "Tools You Can Use" box below.
When you do physical activity, your body tries to cool itself down by sweating. You can lose water when you are working out. To keep your body hydrated, remember to drink fluids. Water is a great choice. Sports beverages are also an option, but they have a lot of sugar and will give you extra calories.
When outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by putting on sunscreen and wearing a hat or visor and protective clothing.
WHAT KINDS OF ACTIVITIES CAN I DO?
You do not need special skills or equipment to make physical activity part of your life. Many types of activities may help improve your health—from things you do every day, like walking your dog, to planned exercises.
Try different activities that you enjoy. Read on for some ideas. Anything that gets you moving around—even for a few minutes at a time—is a healthy start to getting fit.
Walking is the most popular physical activity among adults. It is low cost, convenient, and generally doesn’t require any special clothes or equipment.
Walking will help you
Concerns about safety can keep some people from walking. Choose a safe and well-lit area to walk. Try walking in places you enjoy, like a park or shopping mall. Bring along a friend or family member to chat with you, as this type of social support may help you meet your activity goals. Many malls and parks have benches where you can take a quick break if it is hard for you to walk for a long time.
If you don’t have time for a long walk, add short walks instead. For example, instead of a 30-minute walk, add three 10-minute walks to your day. This makes it easier to fit your activity into a busy schedule.
To learn how to create your own walking plan, see the WIN brochure Walking ... A Step in the Right Direction, listed in the Resources section.
Dancing can be a lot of fun. You can dance in a health club, a dance studio, or even at home. To dance at home, just move your body to some lively music or to a dance workout on your TV or computer.
Dancing may help
If it is hard for you to stand on your feet for a long time, dancing while sitting down may be an option. Sometimes called chair dancing, this activity lets you move your arms and legs to music while taking the weight off your feet.
Riding a bike does not stress any one part of the body—your weight is spread among your arms, back, and hips. You can bicycle indoors on a stationary bike, or outdoors on a road bike.
You may want to use a recumbent bike. On this type of bike, you sit lower to the ground with your legs reaching forward to the pedals. This may feel better than sitting upright. The seat on a recumbent bike is also wider than the seat on an upright bike.
For biking outdoors, you may want to try a mountain bike. These bikes have wider tires and are sturdy. You can also buy a larger seat to put on your bike.
If you decide to buy a bike, check its weight rating (the number of pounds it can support) to make sure it is safe for you.
Swimming and water workouts put less stress on your joints than walking, jogging, or biking because you do not have to lift or push your own weight. If your feet, back, or joints hurt when you stand, these activities may be best for you. If you feel self-conscious or cannot find a good bathing suit, you can wear shorts and a T-shirt while you swim.
Exercising in water
You do not need to know how to swim to work out in water—you can do shallow-water or deep-water exercises without swimming.
For shallow-water workouts, the water level should be between your waist and your chest. Try walking in place, moving your arms from side to side, and throwing punches in front of you.
During deep-water workouts, most of your body is underwater. For safety and comfort, wear a foam belt or life jacket.
This type of activity uses free weights, weight lifting machines, resistance bands, or your own body weight to strengthen your muscles.
Strength training may help you
If you are just starting out, using a weight lifting machine may be safer than dumbbells. As you increase your muscle fitness, you may want to add free weight exercises.
You do not need weight benches or large dumbbells to do strength training at home. You can use a pair of hand weights or even two soup cans or milk jugs filled with water or rice. You can also use your own body weight–for example, by getting up and down from a chair or doing push-ups.
Proper form is very important when lifting weights. You may want to schedule a session with a personal trainer to learn what exercises to do and how to do them safely. You may need to check with your health insurer about whether this service is covered by your plan.
If you decide to buy a home gym, check its weight rating (the number of pounds it can support) to make sure it is safe for you.
Mind and Body Excercise
Your local fitness center may also offer classes like yoga, tai chi, or Pilates. These types of activities may help you
These types of classes can add variety to your workout routine and be a lot of fun. If some movements are hard for you to do or if you have any injuries you are concerned about, talk to the instructor about ways to adapt the exercises and poses to meet your needs or start with a class for beginners.
Daily Life Activities
Lifestyle activities, such as gardening or washing the car, are great ways to get moving. Small changes can add more physical activity to your day and improve your health. Try these:
Even a shopping trip can be exercise, because it is a chance to walk and carry your bags. Doing chores like lawn mowing, raking leaves, gardening, and housework also count.
WHERE CAN I BE ACTIVE?
There are many fun places to be active. Here are some options:
HOW CAN I GET PAST MY ROADBLOCKS?
Think about your barriers to being active. Then try to come up with creative ways to address them. Here are a few examples to help you get started.
HOW CAN I STICK WITH MY HEALTHY HABITS?
Keeping an activity journal is a useful tool to help you stay motivated, stay on track, and reach your goals. It may be helpful to set a short-term goal, a long-term goal, and rewards for meeting those goals. Use the sample activity journal below to help you stick with your healthy habits.
Set short-term and long-term goals. Getting started with a doable goal is a great way to form a new habit. A short-term goal may be to walk 5 to 10 minutes, 5 days a week. A long-term goal may be to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity at a moderate intensity level (activity that makes you breathe harder but does not overwork or overheat you) on most days of the week.
To get you started, write down a goal in the sample activity journal. Be specific. For example, instead of “I will be more active,” set a goal like “I will go for a walk after lunch at least 2 days per week.”
Set rewards. Whether your goal was to be active for 15 minutes a day, to walk farther than you did last week, or simply to stay positive, recognizing your efforts is an important part of staying on track. Some ideas for rewards include new music to charge you up or 30 minutes of quiet time to yourself.
Write down how you will reward yourself in the sample activity journal.
Get support. Get a family member or friend to be physically active with you. It may be more fun and your buddy can cheer you on and help you stick with it.
Write down who will support you in the sample activity journal.
Track progress. You may not feel like you are making progress but when you look back at where you started, you may be pleasantly surprised! You can make copies of the blank activity journal to keep track of your efforts.
Print out a blank journal page to keep track of your efforts and improvements.
Making regular physical activity part of your life is a big step! Start slowly and applaud yourself for every goal you set and achieve.
Be patient. If you cannot achieve your goal the first time or you only stick to the goals for part of the week, remind yourself that this is part of establishing new habits. Review your goals—were they doable? Did you hit a barrier to meeting your goal? Brainstorm some options to overcome it in the future. Reach out to a friend or family member to help support your goals.
Remember to pat yourself on the back for trying, and focus on what you will do differently moving forward. Most importantly, do not give up. Any movement—even for a short time—is a good thing! Remember, each activity you add to your life is another step toward a healthier you.
Additional Reading from the Weight-control Information Network
The following publications are available online at http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/publications and also by calling WIN toll-free at 1–877–946–4627:
Changing Your Habits: Steps to Better Health explains how people can take small steps to become more physically active and consume healthier foods and beverages.
Tips to Help You Get Active offers tips to help readers become more physically active, overcome barriers to activity, and stay motivated.
Walking . . . A Step in the Right Direction explains how to start a walking program, presents a sample program, and shows stretches for warming up and cooling down.
2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
National Diabetes Education Program
National Kidney Disease Education Program
Inclusion of resources is for information only and does not imply endorsement by NIDDK or WIN.
Why should I participate in clinical trials?
Clinical trials are research studies involving people. Clinical trials look at safe and effective new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. To learn more about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to participate, visit the NIH Clinical Research Trials and You website at http://www.nih.gov/health/clinicaltrials . For information about current studies, visit http://www.ClinicalTrials.gov.
Weight-control Information Network
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The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a national information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). WIN provides the general public, health professionals, and the media with science-based, up-to-date, culturally relevant materials and tips. Topics include how to consume healthy foods and beverages, barriers to physical activity, portion control, and eating and physical activity myths. Publications produced by WIN are carefully reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts. This brochure was also reviewed by Steven Blair, P.E.D., Department of Exercise Science, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina.
This publication is not copyrighted. You are encouraged to download the publication, make copies and distribute widely. This brochure is also available at http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov.
National Institutes of Health
To contact WIN, call toll free 1–877–946–4627; fax: 202–828–1028; email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
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