Is fat unfit?

THINK you have a good excuse for not exercising? I have heard them all. Too little time. Too little energy. Too inconvenient. Too boring. And there is even the classic line attributed to any number of comics and philosophers. "Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lay down immediately and wait for it to pass." It seems as though I have made a career out of busting excuses wide open. Whether it is a 70-year-old woman who never exercised in her life, or a hard-driving computer engineer who just could never find the time, I take great pleasure in convincing people to get moving for the health of it.

One of the biggest miconceptions that I encounter in my work is the idea that just because someone is a little (or a lot) overweight they cannot be physically fit. Exercise physiologists at cardiology centres all over the world are evaluating new research that says this is nonsense. Since obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in areas where people have sedentary jobs (especially within the computer industry), doctors are confronted with the fact that added weight usually brings with it elevated risks of heart disease, diabetes and more.

However, it is definitely possible to be overweight and fit, although it depends on the level of fitness that you can attain. According to the Michigan Health System's Preventive Cardiology director, Audrey Hazekamp, "Even if people are overweight, they can achieve multiple benefits by starting an exercise programme. They can reduce their blood pressure, improve their overall stress management, bring down their overall cholesterol levels, achieve a better energy level, reduce body fat and improve body composition. And if they are diabetic, they can improve their glucose control and their insulin sensitivity."

In both the short term and the long run, Hazekamp explains, people who get off their duffs and start moving are doing themselves a favour, even if the extra pounds do not vanish immediately. And you do not have to train for a marathon. Activity can start with walking a few extra steps.

Meanwhile, those who think they have to lose the pounds before they ever lace up their sneakers may indeed get some heart benefit. But not only will they find it harder to lose or maintain their weight, they will miss out on the other benefits of physical activity in the meantime. The goal for most new exercises is to find ways to include a gradually increasing amount of physical activity into their everyday lives. Fitness goals should also be accompanied by diet and stress-management ones as well as for a completely healthy lifestyle.

Start to think of the many opportunities during your regular daily activities in which you can take a few more steps. For example, take the stairs rather than the elevator, park further away in a parking lot, and walk instead of riding short distances. I like to have beginners wear a simple pedometer which counts the number of steps you take each day, you will also have a corresponding higher caloric burn, and start to tap into your fat stores more efficiently.

If you can build up a total of 30 minutes of some sort of activity during most days, you will be on your way to obtaining a health-enhancing effect on your heart and cardiovascular system. Of course, if you are obese or very overweight, you should check with your physician before starting a more vigorous kind of exercise routine, just to make sure your weight is not causing problems that could be worsened by working out.

So now that you know what to do, how do you get moving? Often the first five minutes are the hardest because that is when you have to keep convincing yourself that it is worth the effort, even if it feels like too much work. Get past that point, let your breathing grow slightly more comfortable, and then start to notice how your mind is drifting to other subjects, and less focussed on the exercise itself. It is most important for overweight exercisers to start at a level that does not feel uncomfortable for them, because once they get started, comfort is really the key to maintaining and improving the activity and commitment.


E-mail the writer at mail@pegjordan.com.

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