Exercise at every size: the role of physical activity for obesity

Exercise at every size: the role of physical activity for obesity

Obesity levels in Australia have reached pandemic level proportions, affecting 31.3% of the population. And for a lot of people who struggle with their weight, exercise (especially in a gym) can be really, really daunting. But there are *so many* great reasons to be physically active if you’re overweight or obese, and most of them have nothing to do with weight loss.

Over the past two decades, obesity levels have skyrocketed across the world. This has in turn contributed substantially to the overall burden of non-communicable diseases worldwide. The importance of implementing management strategies has never been higher.

The importance of exercise in obesity management

Lifestyle interventions (exercise and diet) are essential for the management of obesity, and obesity-related conditions. At the simplest level, fat gain is an individual results from an energy imbalance. This energy imbalance is the result of a person consuming more energy than what they are exerting, leading to fat gain and eventual obesity in the long run. Regular exercise offsets this gradual process, by tipping the scales in favour of weight maintenance or weight loss.

The benefits of exercise for obesity run further than purely just weight loss however! Reductions in visceral fat, cardiovascular disease risk factors and increases in muscle mass, strength and overall fitness are additional advantages to regular exercise. It can also help to improve mental health, sleep and mood.

Key barriers/considerations for exercising with obesity

Prior to commencing any type of physical activity program, it’s important to undergo a medical screen to ensure that no contraindications to exercise are present. This should be undertaken for all adults with obesity, to identify if any obesity-related conditions are present that may influence the response to exercise training. This should not deter anyone from participating in exercise programming, as the benefits by far outweigh the risks for most people!

metabolic syndrome

Start low and go slow

This is the recommendation for inactive individuals starting an exercise program to prevent burnout. This involves starting with lower intensity activities and gradually increasing the frequency and duration over time.

Adapt and adjust

Adjust exercises as necessary to decrease bodily risk and impact, especially when obesity-related conditions are present (e.g. Arthritis). Examples can include cycling instead of running for an individual with knee pain.

Stay safe

Utilise appropriate exercise gear and equipment and choose safe environments.

Tips for sustainable, long-term lifestyle change

Just like any new habit, committing to an exercise routine can be a daunting and challenging process. Here are some tips for making exercise a part of your weekly schedule:

Partner up

Grabbing another family member or friend can be a great strategy to keep yourself accountable. You will be much more likely to stick to a routine if you’re completing it with someone else!

Try new things

Pounding the pavement isn’t the only way to exercise! Seeing an exercise specialist, joining a gym or online class or exercising in a community-based program are all great options. Introducing more variety to your exercise regime will help to keep you interested and adherent in the long run.

Pencil it in

Grab a diary or calendar and set out times for exercising throughout the week. Be deliberate about scheduling exercise and fitting it in, even when you’re busy. If it’s in your calendar, you’re much more likely to stick to it. Tracking your exercise sessions in a log can also be helpful. Seeing your achievements and progress can be a great motivator!

Have fun

Have fun and be creative with the ways you exercise! The most important component of any exercise program is that you are doing things you enjoy. If you are having fun, you will be more likely to stick with it.

How an exercise physiologist can help

Seeing an Accredited Exercise Physiologist can be incredibly helpful in the journey into exercise. Exercise physiologists can help to:

  • Prescribe and deliver appropriate exercise interventions for the management of obesity
  • Set attainable exercise and life related goals
  • Provide ongoing exercise advice
  • Prescribe and deliver tailored exercise programming to all individuals

To find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist near you, click here. 

Written by Riley Brown, Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

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