The Role of Exercise in Treating Obesity

What is obesity? Obesity is defined as the condition of being very overweight and having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher. The BMI is a measure of your weight relative to your height. You can find your BMI from a chart. Your waist size is also important. It is a measure of your abdominal fat. Your health risks, especially for diabetes and heart disease but also some cancers, increase as your BMI and your waist size get larger. A waist measurement greater than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women indicates a significant increase in health risk. Nearly one third of adults are obese. It is a serious condition because it increases your risk of poor health and major illness. How does exercise help in the treatment of obesity? The goal of treatment for obesity is weight loss. Exercise is an essential part of any weight-loss program and should become a permanent part of your lifestyle. The benefits of exercise can include:

  • burning off calories and losing weight

  • maintaining muscle tone

  • increasing your metabolic rate (the amount of calories your body burns 24 hours a day)

  • improving circulation

  • improving heart and lung function

  • increasing your sense of self-control

  • reducing your level of stress

  • increasing your ability to concentrate

  • improving your appearance

  • reducing depression

  • suppressing your appetite

  • helping you sleep better

  • preventing diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol

  • decreasing your risk of some cancers, such as breast, ovary, and colon cancer

What type of exercise program is best for me? Some people can lose weight by themselves, but most should seek help from a health care provider. Your provider will recommend the right kinds of exercise for you. Your provider may also refer you to a dietitian to plan your diet. A dietitian can teach you how to make healthier food choices and prepare meal plans that fit your specific diet needs. The goal of most diet and exercise plans is to help you lose 1 to 2 pounds a week. As ways to gradually increase your physical activity, your provider may suggest that you:

  • Walk every day.

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

  • Do errands on foot, if possible. If you need to drive, park farther away and walk to your destination.

  • Go to a spa, gym, or exercise class. Water aerobic classes are especially good if you have back, knee, or joint problems.

  • Do some form of strength training using gym equipment or your own body weight. In addition to making your muscles stronger and able to work longer without getting tired, strength training helps you burn more energy when you are at rest. Muscle mass burns more calories than fat so as your muscle increases so does your ability to burn calories.

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