When Walking Isn’t Such Great Exercise

I see it all the time—people who are deconditioned or obese are told that walking is the best exercise.

For some, it is. It’s convenient. It doesn’t require any special skills. All you need is a good pair of shoes. And it’s easy to increase the challenge in incremental steps (literally!).

But it’s not so good for everybody.

Walking can aggravate imbalances in the body and create pain—in the lower back, the hips, the knees, the feet. And then it’s a slog. And potentially harmful. This is especially the case for people carrying excess weight on their frames.

And for those people, it’s best to start with mobility and stability exercises, which Dr. Google can provide but which are best taught by a physiotherapist or personal trainer. This is optimal for avoiding pain when walking.

For those not ready or able to seek out a physiotherapist or personal trainer, the pool is an excellent place to start. Not swimming, yet. Just hanging out in chest-deep water and moving. The water provides support and, not inconsequentially, nurturance. It’s a pleasurable environment for somebody with extra fat because fat is buoyant. (It’s a very different story for muscular individuals, but that’s not who we’re talking about.) This is a safe, low-impact way to move. And if you want to get a bit more of a workout, aquafit classes are effective and essentially risk-free.

I’m also a fan of strength training for the plus-sized person. Ever notice how big Olympic weightlifters are? For pumping iron, a larger body is an advantage, and plus-sized individuals who are deconditioned can make much more rapid progress with weights than with aerobic exercise, which in turn is motivating. Once a foundation of strength is built, then aerobics will be easier. Get some instruction, and then go for it!

Chair exercises are another way to get going. It’s surprising how effective exercising sitting down can be, and this may be an option for those who absolutely don’t want to be seen in a swimsuit 1 or are intimidated by the gym. The best option is a local class, provided the instructor is competent and compassionate, but there are lots of chair workouts on YouTube as well.

So, if walking floats your boat and makes you feel good, do it! But if not, don’t feel like a failure… but do find something else that works for you.

If you have any other ideas, please comment below.



  1. If you are one of those people who doesn’t want to be seen in a swimsuit, I urge you to try to get past that block because the water can be such an awesome place to be if you are overweight or obese.

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