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25 Simple Tips to Start Exercising When You’re Overweight

Straight from people who got it done.

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Try printables from Pinterest


“After I had surgery, I lost 45 pounds by doing workouts at home from Pinterest. I pin the ones that look interesting, print out the charts of what I need to do each week and print sheets to track my progress. All the new workouts on there make it easy to switch it up with different routines. Once I started to see progress it became second nature and now I just do it.” —Jessica Marinaccio

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Sign up for a race

“I’ve maintained a 60-pound weight loss by challenging myself with new goals. Getting an event on the calendar a few months out provides a tangible goal to work toward; having something I registered (and paid!) for keeps me motivated. Register for a fun event—the Color Run or a 5k community walk/run are great, low-pressure ways to try it. I started training by following the Couch-to-5k plan and it was a great way to ease in and not overdo it!” —Mindy Nienhouse, holistic health coach

Want to be a runner? Learn these 13 terms every runner should know

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Add up all the money you’re saving


“Gyms and healthy food can be expensive. But I knew if I didn’t make some changes, I would be paying a lot more for prescription drugs for chronic conditions caused by obesity. In addition, we stopped eating out and started meal planning and cooking at home, which saved us calories and cash.” —Christy Baume

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Believe this: No one is watching you


“When I first started exercising I was so embarrassed to be red-faced and struggling through workouts I was sure were easy for everyone else. Once I realized that not working out wasn’t going to get me any results, I sucked it up and made myself do it. And the truth is that nobody else is even looking at you!” —Theodora Blanchfield 

If you’re new to working out, check out these 12 rules for beginner fitness success.

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Start with weights, not cardio


“A common myth is that overweight people shouldn’t weight train because they need to burn lots of calories during cardio and weight training doesn’t burn enough calories. But extended bouts of cardio make you lose muscle. So you might lose some fat, but in the long term, your metabolism is compromised because you’ve lost muscle too. For long-term weight-loss, weight training is a must. Weight training has other benefits besides retention of muscle. It also helps keep you motivated as you see strength gains quickly and strengthening the muscles can result in less joint pain and less difficulty in moving around. The beauty of weight training is that it can be easily modified to every person’s needs, and adjusted as the trainee becomes stronger and more familiar with technique.”  —Jules Harris, personal trainer

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Exercise out of self-love, not self-loathing


“I lost a significant amount of weight and went from being sedentary and hating exercise to being a gym rat. I learned that the most important thing is to find a motivation to exercise that is based on self-love and self-care, not self-loathing. If you don’t feel like you can love yourself then try loving someone else first. I became severely depressed while pregnant and decided to try exercise instead of antidepressants. It was the first time I tried to exercise for any other reason than out of self-loathing. It was an act of love—for my unborn child—and that made a huge difference.” —Bethany Kirk

For more motivation to get moving, check out these powerful benefits of exercise that go beyond weight loss.

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Think: Just do it


“It’s simple but it’s true: No matter what you tell yourself it is never going to get any easier to start exercising than it is right now. So just do it.” —Theodora Blanchfield

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Focus on the health benefits, not the number on the scale


“I was diagnosed with lupus eight years ago. The beginning of my illness was quite debilitating and led to three years of prednisone therapy. As a result, I gained over 60 pounds. I weighed 215 on a 5’4″ frame. I had all the side effects: moon face, humpback, facial hair, hair loss. It was difficult but I want other women with chronic illnesses to know we can still exercise with moderation and modifications. I’m now a very fit and healthy 154 pounds and have become a bit of a gym rat, but the most important thing to me is my symptoms have become very rare and I take minimal medication. I really credit my healthy eating and regular exercise for getting me to this point.” —Michelle Lemke

Exercise also helps your mental strength—check out these six ways working out benefits your brain.

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Try a class geared for overweight people


“Group fitness is a great way to get fit and make friends but if you’re nervous about jumping into Zumba or bootcamp, many places offer beginner classes. For instance, I teach Fitness 101 and Fitness Plus for the YMCA for people who aren’t ready to join regular classes. I’ve lost 100 pounds and am still going strong.” —Kenlie Tiggeman

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Don’t cut calories too drastically

“If you cut calories and add exercise simultaneously you’ll be miserable and more likely to quit both. Keep your body well-fueled while you begin to incorporate exercise and once it’s a habit, then consider gentle diet changes.” —Bethany Kirk

Read all about how cutting calories won’t help you lose weight.

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Add just one minute a day

“My biggest tip is to take things one day at a time and make, small attainable goals for yourself. When I started working out, I started walking on the treadmill and added one minute each day. This allowed me to focus on my successes instead of feeling like a failure.” —Ashley Diamond

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Hire a personal trainer who understands the struggle

“Hiring a personal trainer can really help you feel more comfortable with exercise. But not all trainers are created equally. I’m a trainer but I used to be overweight. Now to motivate my clients I show them pictures of me before I lost all my weight. I explain how uncomfortable and embarrassed I was but that I started out by simply walking a mile a day and learning what proper food portions were. Then I walked two miles a day. Eventually, I added weight training. It takes time and dedication, and you will absolutely have setbacks, but it is worth it in the end.” —Collette Grier

Here’s what you should know about hiring a personal trainer

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Find a gym that makes you feel comfortable

“As someone who used to be significantly overweight, it’s important to find a gym you are comfortable first. For me, that was the Y. I was a member at another gym but I felt like it catered to ‘pretty people.’ The people I saw at the Y just looked, well, normal. You’ll only continue to go if you feel like you fit in.” —Quish Turner

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Get free home workout videos

“I lost 110 pounds but didn’t use a gym at all. Instead, I exercised at home by checking out workout DVDs from the library or finding videos online to try out. This let me discover what I really enjoyed doing from the safety of my own living room—it’s all about experimentation!” —Cassandra Schmigotzki, NETA-CGEI, Wellness Coach, The Long and Winding Road to Wellness

Get started by checking out these 11 workout moves you can do with tools you already have at home.

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Start with easier programs

“Start a new workout program gently. If you start so aggressively that you’re miserably sore, you won’t be motivated to do it again. I started by going to classes that were primarily for senior citizens. If I had gone to regular classes I know I would have felt overwhelmed, intimidated, and painfully sore—and bailed. Because I started gently, I was able to gradually gain endurance and strength. So swallow your pride and start slow, even if it means being the only 29-year-old in a room full of 60- and 70-year-olds.” —Bethany Kirk

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Avoid exercise incontinence

“Many women who are obese find that they have urinary incontinence due to pressure. This is embarrassing and an impediment to exercise. Find a female trainer or fit friend who is kind and understanding of this to help. And in the meantime skip jumping rope, running sprints, doing burpees, or anything else that makes you uncomfortable. You don’t have to do those things to get fit!” —Elizabeth Johnson

Here are nine ways to help relieve urinary incontinence during exercise.

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Make sure you know your way around the gym

“When I first started exercising I didn’t even know where to start. Most gyms offer a free tour and will show you how to use all the facilities—so take it! If you need more help, consider hiring a personal trainer. Not only did my trainer teach me how to do the exercises, but she showed me how to adjust the machines, alter the weights, and change the different accessories on the cable machines. Eventually, I became confident enough I could go to the gym myself.” —Megan Michael 

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Dance and do other favorite activities from your childhood

“I’ve always loved to dance but cheerleading and dance were not options for me when I was growing up, so I learned how to shake it in my living room as an adult. I love at home DVDs and YouTube tutorials. Dance is not only great for all body-toning, but it is pretty hard to get injured. Not to mention you can pump up your favorite tunes.” —Jennifer Espinosa-Goswami, a health coach and personal trainer

Join in the fun with these nine dance-inspired workouts you need to try.

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Splurge for a program you’ll stick with

“Infomercials get a bad rap but signing up with Beachbody, a popular diet and exercise program advertised on TV, helped me lose 40 pounds. It’s been two years and I still love doing the workout DVDs at home.” —Kristen Leigh

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Exercise with a friend

“I lost 125 pounds and I can tell you that you don’t have to kill yourself in the gym to lose weight. My favorite way to exercise is to go for a walk with a friend. We have so much fun talking we forget how much time has elapsed. Just make sure you find a person with similar fitness level so you don’t get discouraged. There’s nothing worse than trying to keep up with a friend who is 100 pounds lighter and runs marathons.” —Lisa Ihenacho

Learn a few other tricks to make your daily walking habit even healthier.

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Schedule your workout like you would an appointment

“Classes are social and offer a degree of accountability. If you set it up as an ‘appointment,’ you’ll be more likely to show up. Plus they usually have good music and are fun. All of that compelled me to exercise in a way that just wandering into the gym any time to go on the elliptical didn’t.” —Bethany Kirk

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Take advantage of gym babysitting

“When I started trying to lose weight I knew I’d need to start exercising. We had a weight bench and an elliptical at home but I never used them due to my wild and crazy children demanding 100 percent of my attention. So we found a gym close enough to our house that made it easy to get to frequently. They have an amazing child center so our kids love to go there, which motivates our whole family. Plus they offer lots of classes for adults and kids.” —Christy Baume

Learn how these women manage to work out every day.

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Remember the big picture starts with a small dot

“Take it one day at a time. One step, one day, one week, one month—they all add up. You will get there, I promise, as long as you keep moving.” —Quish Turner

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Make a game out of it

“I am a big gamer and work as a game developer so I started exercising with things that were in my comfort zone: video games! I played Dance Dance Revolution and as I got better and better, I lost weight and got fitter, and was able to expand to other forms of exercise more comfortably.” —Leah White

Here are 11 other ways to sneak exercise into your day.

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Remember who you’re doing this for (hint: you!)


“I was always scared to go to the gym because I worried everyone was staring at me and criticizing me. But I had to realize that this is my journey, not theirs, and this is my health and future, not theirs. We are all at different points in our health journey and I had to accept that (and continue to tell myself that). I may be walking slow and not going very far, but any workout is better than no workout and ultimately it’s my workout.” —Christy Baume

Sources
  • Jessica Marinaccio, owner of Life with 4 Crazy Girls blog.
  • Mindy Nienhouse, holistic health coach.
  • Christy Baume.
  • Theodora Blanchfield, writer and founder of the blog, Preppy Runner, Los Angeles.
  • Jules Harris, personal trainer.
  • Bethany Kirk.
  • Michelle Lemke.
  • Kenlie Tiggeman.
  • Ashley Diamond, blogger at A Healthy, Happier Bear, New York City.
  • Collette Grier.
  • Quish Turner.
  • Cassandra Schmigotzki, NETA-CGEI, Wellness Coach, The Long and Winding Road to Wellness.
  • Elizabeth Johnson.
  • Megan Michael.
  • Jennifer Espinosa-Goswami, a health coach and personal trainer, Minneapolis.
  • Kristen Leigh.
  • Lisa Ihenacho.
  • Leah White.
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen has been covering health and fitness for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 13 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She teaches fitness classes in her spare time. She lives in Denver with her husband, four children, and three pets.