It’s impossible to overstate the importance of regular physical activity. Only your diet has a greater effect on your physical and mental health, and together these two factors determine your overall likelihood of gaining weight and developing weight-related health conditions. However, exercise doesn’t come easily to everyone, especially those who already struggle with fatigue, immobility, respiratory conditions, and other health problems associated with excess weight.
If you are considering weight loss surgery to help you return to a healthy weight, developing healthy exercise habits before your surgery has been shown to be very beneficial. Although significant weight loss will physically make exercise easier, you will also need to know how to motivate yourself, avoid injury, work out each part of your body, and keep your physical activity consistent.
Whether you’re preparing for your bariatric procedure or learning how to sustain a healthier new weight for the first time, follow this guide to create your very own exercise program specific to your needs, experience, and fitness level.
Assess Your Fitness Level
Your fitness level isn’t as simple as being “in shape” or “out of shape”. There are a variety of different physical factors that determine your body’s capacity for strenuous exercise, and every human body is unique in this regard. As you become healthier and more active, these factors will change, indicating that your exercise regimen is working.
Before you start working out, assess your fitness level by measuring and documenting the following:
Your resting pulse is the number of times your heart beats per minute while awake and inactive. This number will decrease as you become more physically fit. Measure your heart rate before and after walking one mile, and continue to do so regularly.
Time how long it takes to walk a complete mile on a treadmill, track, or around your own neighborhood.
How many complete, consecutive pushups can you do? If you have to stop and rest, end your count.
Measure the circumference of your bare waist, making sure your string or tape measurer stays parallel to the floor.
Your Body Mass Index (BMI) represents the ratio between your height and weight. Use an online BMI calculator to determine yours.
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you, and try to reach your toes with both hands. How far can you reach forward?
Understanding your fitness level is also important because it determines your initial limitations. Though it’s important to step outside of your comfort zone and learn how to endure some amount of discomfort and stress as you exercise, exceeding your physical limits in the beginning is counterproductive, because it may cause injuries that limit you even more.
Design Your Fitness Program
Fortunately, any amount of physical activity is good for your body and mind. You don’t need a complicated or difficult exercise program in order to reverse depression and heart disease, prevent some types of cancer, reduce the effects of arthritis, and reap other benefits of losing weight and staying active. In fact, exercising while overweight is a great way to combat the negative thinking and unhealthy habits that contribute to so many obese people staying obese.
Your fitness program will evolve as you become stronger and more active, but for now, just focus on devising a regimen that reflects your current needs, desires, and physical limitations. Take the following steps to make sure you plan a program that’s right for you:
Make a list of goals
Do you want to lose weight until you’re no longer obese? Play soccer with your son without stopping to catch your breath? Run a marathon? The more specific and personal your fitness goals, the harder it will be to lose sight of them or give up on them.
Aim for balance
Instead of squeezing all your exercise into long, strenuous weekend workouts, distribute it evenly throughout each week. Start with two and a half hours of moderate exercise every week (about 20 minutes each day) and allow time for rest and recovery in between workouts.
Make your daily routine more active
If your schedule is hectic or you find workouts boring, integrate exercise into your everyday activities too. Do sit-ups while you watch TV and squats while you wash dishes. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work.
Write it down
Put your plan on paper, and refer to it every day.
Now that you have assessed your fitness level and created a goal and general plan, it’s time to get specific and start implementing. Living a healthy lifestyle is a skill that must be learned, and difficulties along the way are not personal failures; they’re just temporary setbacks that allow you to learn more about yourself. Instead of competing with others or trying to reach an impossible ideal, learn your current capabilities and then arm yourself with the tools and knowledge you need to get started.
Start slowly, and be kind to yourself as you develop the skill of exercise. Reward yourself with activities you actually enjoy, such as dancing or swimming, instead of punishing yourself with grueling runs or exercises you dread. Along the way, keep track of your progress and adjust the intensity level of each exercise accordingly.
Popular Fitness Programs For Beginners
Not sure where to start? The following fitness programs were designed for beginners, with simple but effective exercise options that gradually increase in intensity:
Make your first month less overwhelming by breaking down your workouts into four week-long phases, starting with three sets of basic exercises on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Once every day, walk down the street for 10 minutes before heading back home. After a week, add five minutes to your daily walking time. Pay attention to your posture, stay hydrated, and continue to add five minutes every week until these walks are simply part of your everyday routine.
Another four-week program for beginners, this plan outlines compound exercises that require common gym equipment, such as stationary bikes, barbells, and rowing machines.
Remember to monitor your progress closely, documenting your changing fitness stats and recording the workouts you complete. As your beginner workouts get easier and your body gets stronger and more flexible, you will eventually be able to transition into more difficult exercises and more frequent workouts. Documenting your very first routines will make it easier to adjust your pace as you continue.
Stay On Course In Your Fitness Journey
Regular exercise is full of rewards, and thanks to the endorphins released during physical activity, it can often be its own reward. However, it’s very natural to experience some frustration and lack of motivation along the way. As long as you keep your commitment to staying active, you will be able to overcome setbacks and cope with negative emotions without reverting to an inactive lifestyle.
For example, if you go a week or more without working out because of an injury or lack of motivation, hold yourself accountable with help from a friend or trainer. If you skip a handful of workouts, don’t try to make up for all of them; just complete an exercise session to remind your body how good it feels to be active.
Any amount of physical activity is a good thing, but as you put more effort into your exercise regimen, you might be surprised to learn how much willpower and untapped potential you’ve had all along.