Exercise safety for overweight women

Q: I’m 5’4″ and tip the scale at 235 pounds. I know I need to exercise, but the last time I went for a walk I had back pain for two weeks. Can you suggest a progression of activity that will get me up to walking two miles a day without “breaking” something?


You’re right that exercise is important. You didn’t mention how far or fast you were walking when you got the back pain, but I suspect that you did too much, too soon. Most of us do that when we start exercising. We’re eager and we overdo it, which often leaves us sore later. To be on the safe side, though, check with your doctor before resuming exercise. Then, the best way to get started is to go slow and get strong.

Think slow and short. Start with just five minutes or a walk around your block. Walk at a pace that is comfortable for you. Stop and take a break if needed. Do that every day for a week or so, until you’re comfortable. Then increase your walk by a minute or two. If you notice that walking longer bothers your back, do two or three short walks throughout the day. Before increasing the amount of time you’re walking, allow at least a week — longer if you need — to get used to that distance.

Also, don’t try to increase how fast you’re walking. To reduce your risk of injury, only increase one component of your exercise program — speed, distance, or frequency — at a time. If you still notice back pain, try walking in a pool. The water makes it easier on your joints.

Strengthen your muscles. Get a set or two of lightweight dumbbells and do strengthening exercises two to three times a week.  Studies have shown that when you strengthen your muscles, activities such as walking become easier, and you become more active throughout the day.

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