Top 7 Exercises for Beginners Living with Obesity

Male walking on a treadmill

Everyone approaches their weight loss journey differently, and it can be hard to know the right steps to get started. Many of us focus solely on cutting calories to lose weight, but it is also important to include exercise when developing a well-rounded weight loss plan. 

Physical activity can provide many benefits to a person with obesity, whether you see the physical difference right away or not. Ideally, a person will get a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise weekly, completed throughout the week in sessions that are 10 minutes or greater in length.

It’s best to aim for a mix of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise as well as weight bearing exercise. Weight bearing exercise is especially important while losing weight, to help build and maintain muscle mass. It is recommended that beginners choose low intensity activities, and steadily increase the frequency and duration of exercise over time. Always make sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new workout routine; they can help you  choose exercises that are the best fit for you.

In this article we will discuss the benefits of exercise for beginners who are living with obesity and what types of exercises are the best to get you started.

Benefits of Exercise for Beginners with Obesity 

Exercising provides many benefits for individuals with obesity who are trying to lose weight. One study, from The Cooper Institute, found that older adults with obesity can reduce their body weight while also increasing their cardiovascular fitness and strength, by including aerobic and resistance exercise into their weekly routine. This was determined by segmenting participants into four groups that performed different exercises, and evaluating their progress at the end of 26 weeks. Those who performed aerobic and resistance exercise experienced a 17% improvement in both fat mass and cardiorespiratory fitness along with other improvements. 

An article from Harvard Health outlines many other benefits to exercise for beginners who are living with obesity. Building muscle mass by weight-lifting, push ups, or other muscle strengthening activities increases the energy burned by your body throughout the day even when it’s at rest. Along with this, physical activity may also help balance the amount of energy you use throughout the day. There are mental benefits as well. Exercising regularly can help reduce depression and anxiety, boost your mood and encourage you to follow a more regular routine. Exercise can also reduce the risk of type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease for those living with excess weight. 

What Type of Exercises Are Best for Individuals with Obesity?

The best exercises for beginners living with excess weight are low impact activities that you can build in intensity and duration over time. It is most important that you start slowly and refine your form as you go to reduce the risk of injury. The following list of exercises gives a good range of activities that are beneficial to those who are usually not as physically active

1. Walking

Walking is an easy way to begin your workout routine if you are someone living with excess weight. There is no equipment necessary and it can be done anywhere you go, making it simple to add into your routine. It improves mobility and lower body strength, and is a good exercise for building momentum when you are starting a workout routine. 

How to Get Started: Walking is one of the easiest exercises to incorporate into your day to day routine. You may set aside time to do 30 minutes of walking, or follow the 10x10x10 rule splitting it into 10 minute time blocks throughout the day. Getting yourself walking can even be as simple as taking the stairs or parking further from school, work, or home. 

2. Cardio Machines

Cardio machines are beneficial for beginners with excess weight because they can work different muscle groups, be adjusted to your comfort level, and provide some structure when you don’t know where to start with exercising. Exercise bikes are an effective way to get in physical activity, and are considered low impact. If you have back pain, try a recumbent bike that will provide the extra support you need when biking. There are lots of different options for cardio machines that you may choose based upon your needs and comfort. You can also switch between machines to add more variety to your workout.

How to Get Started: Cardio machines are usually accessed through a gym membership or by having one in your home. You may want to try a one day guest pass at your local gym to see if this exercise is something you enjoy. If you are hesitant to go to the gym right away, or unsure of how to get started, you may want to look into working with a personal trainer who can show you how to use the machines in the best way for you. 

3. Yoga and Mind-Body Exercises

Yoga and mind-body exercises are low impact, provide variation, and encourage connectedness in your workout routine. These workouts may include tai chi, yoga, or moving meditation. Mind-body exercise classes are sometimes offered in outdoor spaces such as parks where you can also reap the benefits of spending time outdoors while being physically active. This type of exercise is beneficial to anyone looking to increase balance, mobility, and flexibility. 

How to Get Started: Yoga and mind-body exercise classes have become much more accessible through studios and online videos, so start where you are comfortable! All you need is an exercise mat to use during the routine for your comfort and prevention of injury.  

4. Swimming

Swimming is considered an ideal exercise for those living with excess weight, as the water acts as a natural restraint forcing your muscles to work while supporting up to 80% of your body weight. This is a great exercise for beginners who struggle with mobility and has benefits such as working your full body and improving cardiovascular health. Being in the water also cools you off as you are working out, allowing for improved endurance. 

How to Get Started: Most cities have a local public pool that you can go to and swim. All you will need is a bathing suit that you feel comfortable in, a swim cap, and goggles. The easiest way to get started with this exercise is to swim laps back and forth in intervals. You may also try leg exercises while holding on to a kickboard to help support you and add some variety. 

5. Dancing

Dancing is an enjoyable way to start your workout routine without feeling bored or repetitive in your movements. This is a way to reduce excess weight, while also boosting your mood and confidence. As a cardio exercise, there are many physical benefits such as increased stamina, mobility, flexibility, and blood flow. Dancing is a great activity to have in your routine to add some fun and variety into your workout.

How to Get Started: There are many options for dance classes online and in person such as zumba, hip hop, ballet, or ballroom dancing. These can be found at local community centers or dance studios. You don’t even need a class to get dancing – just start your playlist and have fun dancing at home! This is a great activity to include your friends and family in. You’ll all get a good workout and enjoy yourselves while doing it.

6. Water Aerobics

Water aerobics is another great workout for beginners, and it is easy to get started. Water aerobics can burn more calories than land exercises, decrease pain and swelling, and improve strength, mobility, and endurance. The most recommended activities for water aerobics are walking or jogging in the pool, jumping jacks, jumps, or shuffling across the pool. Those living with excess weight may benefit more from exercising in the deeper end of the pool where there is more water and greater support for your joints. 

How to Get Started: You will need a swimsuit you feel comfortable in and for hair to be pulled back out of your face. To get started with a routine, you may want to follow the simple exercises listed above, research some basic water aerobic routines, or join a beginner class at your local pool. 

7. Group Classes

Group classes are excellent for holding yourself accountable and surrounding yourself with like minded people who motivate you to stick with your workout journey. There are so many exercise groups you can join online or in person depending on your interests. Types of group classes you may consider joining could be circuit training, walking programs, low-impact workouts, stability ball workouts, indoor cycling, and small-group training. Trying a group class is also a great way to get started when you are unsure of how to start a routine or of the proper workout techniques. An instructor can be very helpful in teaching you the tips and tricks you need to be successful. 

How to Get Started: Group classes can be found in various places such as gyms, studios, community centers, or online. You may be able to find an offer to try your first class free or at a discounted price so you can try different types of classes. If it makes you feel more comfortable, bring a friend or family member to try it with you! Finding a class that you like makes for a great way to incorporate working out into your weekly schedule. 

How Form Health Can Help You Reach Your Weight Loss Goals

Exercise is a key part of having a well rounded weight loss plan, in combination with diet changes and weight loss medication, when appropriate. The team at Form is here to help! Our weight loss experts will guide you through a personalized weight loss plan and be there to provide support throughout your journey. To learn more about Form, schedule a call or send us a message. Learn more about how Form works here

About the Author

Julia Axelbaum, RD, Director of Clinical Nutrition, CSOWM, LDN

Julia Axelbaum is a Registered Dietitian board certified in obesity and weight management at Form Health. She studied Nutrition and Public Health at New York University and completed her clinical training at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Julia worked as a bariatric dietitian at NewStart Bariatrics in St. Louis, MO and went on to become the Bariatric Program Coordinator where she fully launched the center’s first non-surgical, medical weight loss program. Julia is passionate about helping her patients learn how to take control of emotional eating, develop a more balanced mindset and improve their relationship with food.

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