The paradox of exercise becomes immediately apparent the moment you need to use it to lose weight and feel healthier. It then becomes obvious that exercise is easier to start, do and maintain when you’re already fit. The reasons exercise feels so difficult when we haven’t actively engaged in anything physical for a while are:
- The new change in routine makes a greater demand in the body’s energy needs and the body resists it.
- Getting into exercise after a long lay off or as a newbie is initially hard on the joints, heart and lungs.
- The central nervous system (CNS) is not yet used to controlling the body in new ways of moving.
- The metabolic system has not yet geared up to increase thermogenesis at the rate required when you exercise.
- The joints, tendons and ligaments are de-strengthened because of a period of inactivity and they will experience significant mechanical stress once you start to exercise.
All of the above reasons spell out: discomfort. Because our body and brain are geared up to help us avoid situations in which we don’t feel well the moment we think about exercise as a fresh activity, we get a less than favorable physical and emotional response. This makes it hard to contemplate, it negatively affects motivation and it makes it hard to start exercising and even harder to continue after we start.
That isn’t all however. The current social fetishization of leanness as a marker of health creates an instant judgement against anyone who is trying to lose weight. This adds an unnecessary layer of psychological barriers to all the practical ones listed above.
Exercise is a stressor which forces the body to adapt. The adaptations create the physical changes that we experience as a leaner, stronger body that moves more easily. However, bodies that are overweight already experience a certain amount of stress due to the excess weight they carry. Exercise then adds on top of that, so conventional exercise activity is counterproductive. Sometimes it is “too much, too soon”. At other times it simply is impossible to do because the flexibility of the joints and range of motion required is simply not there, yet. At all times we’re battling with the level of difficulty being experienced.
On top of this is the fact that fat stored in the body is a metabolically active organ that affects a person’s internal, hormonal states. So, there is an additional metabolic stress experienced by a body that is overweight that is not present when the exact same body is at a more ideal weight.
When all this is going on, going all-in in an exercise program that is usually followed by a strict eating plan is understandably difficult. This is why dieting fails and why we don’t continue to exercise. Placing the body and mind under such stress levels is a sure recipe to fail.
This is why starting small and building up gradually over time is key. There are three ingredients you need to bring into this:
- Consistency – you need to do something that gets you active every day.
- Structure – what you do needs to provide enough variety to make each day interesting and progression to gradually challenge and change your body.
- Patience – nothing happens overnight and it is unrealistic to expect it to. Although you will feel different almost from the first day of your activity it will be at least 12 weeks before you begin to see any meaningful physical changes.
Your mental state is every bit as important as what you do physically. Staying motivated, being able to tell yourself that you need to keep on going when you’re tired and your body is aching and you still are not seeing much difference.
Exercise has a positive effect on the way you feel, generally. At the same time it is important to approach your fitness journey with the correct expectations, be realistic about the time it will take to see results, not get discouraged just because something feels hard or takes longer and focus instead on the greater sense of control you achieve over your own mind and body.
A strong mental attitude and the right expectations go a long way towards overcoming the slump that is experienced naturally in every exercise program.
Programs To Try
When You First Start To Exercise (find the level suitable for you)
To see the benefits of exercise when you’re overweight requires a gradual start, consistency in exercising and patience. Provided you put those three ingredients in you will, over time, feel stronger and get healthier and you will gain greater control over your body and mind.
- Nesto RW. Obesity: a major component of the metabolic syndrome. Tex Heart Inst J. 2005;32(3):387-9. PMID: 16392226; PMCID: PMC1336716.
- Hansen E, Hajri T, Abumrad NN. Is all fat the same? The role of fat in the pathogenesis of the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Surgery. 2006 Jun;139(6):711-6. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2005.10.018. PMID: 16782424; PMCID: PMC3182097.
- Amaro-Gahete FJ, De-la-O A, Jurado-Fasoli L, Dote-Montero M, Gutiérrez Á, Ruiz JR, Castillo MJ. Changes in Physical Fitness After 12 Weeks of Structured Concurrent Exercise Training, High Intensity Interval Training, or Whole-Body Electromyostimulation Training in Sedentary Middle-Aged Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Front Physiol. 2019 Apr 24;10:451. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00451. PMID: 31105580; PMCID: PMC6492765.
- Wu J. Effects of Physical Exercise on Physical Fitness and Mental Health of Obese Students. J Environ Public Health. 2022 Aug 23;2022:2347205. doi: 10.1155/2022/2347205. PMID: 36052348; PMCID: PMC9427268.
- Carraça EV, Encantado J, Battista F, Beaulieu K, Blundell JE, Busetto L, van Baak M, Dicker D, Ermolao A, Farpour-Lambert N, Pramono A, Woodward E, Bellicha A, Oppert JM. Effect of exercise training on psychological outcomes in adults with overweight or obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2021 Jul;22 Suppl 4(Suppl 4):e13261. doi: 10.1111/obr.13261. Epub 2021 May 6. PMID: 33960106; PMCID: PMC8365728.