When you need to lose a lot of weight, exercise should be an essential part of your plan. Simple daily workouts not only help burn calories and maintain weight loss, but they also can ward off diseases—diabetes, heart disease—linked to weight gain. But hold on a minute: "First, you need to make sure you get clearance with your physician," says Alexis Colvin, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine physician at Mount Sinai Hospital and chief medical officer of the United States Tennis Association. "Then you need to set small, measurable goals for lower-impact exercises." (Looking to conquer your weight issues? Prevention magazine has smart answers—get 2 FREE gifts when you subscribe today.)
Carrying all that extra weight stresses the joints, so you need safe movements that won't sideline you or torpedo your weight loss goals. So here are eight safe, low-impact exercises to get you started.
Rather than start your day in a hurried rush to get out the door and get to work, take an extra 5 to 10 minutes to do some simple stretches. "Stretching in the morning helps blood flow and lifts your mood," says Irina Popa-Erwin, a former professional gymnast and cofounder of NYC Health and Nutrition. "Emotion creates motion. When you feel happier, you're more likely to be active later in the day." (Give these morning yoga stretches a try.)Go for a stroll
We're big fans of walking. It's easy, safe, and social. And it's easy on the joints and great for your cardiovascular health. "When you want to start exercising, walking is a great gateway to making exercise fun," says Popa-Erwin. She recommends starting with just 2 or 3 days a week and then increasing your frequency, pace, and distance. Follow these tips for how to start walking when you have 50+ pounds to lose.Soak yourself
Jump in the pool for a great workout. Swimming will burn 400 to 700 calories an hour and condition your entire body. Plus, when you're in the water, your body bears only 10% of its weight, yet you're fighting resistance that's 12 times denser than the air. That equals a great workout for your muscles and much-needed relief for your joints.
Not a swimmer? Try water running. It may look silly, but you get all the cardiovascular benefits of running while cushioning your joints. "It's a wonderful alternative," says Colvin. Water running can be done in either end of the pool, but try it first in the deep end, with a flotation belt holding you above water. To get the hang of it, work with a coach or take a class. (Here are 19 pool exercises you should try.)Easy as riding a bike
Dust off the seat and hop on a bike—or give spin class a try. Cycling is easy on the joints, and even the most out-of-shape person feels fine traveling a few miles. Colvin suggests starting on a stationary bike. "You can speed up or add resistance as you feel comfortable," she says. "And if anything feels wrong, you ease up or stop and you're not stuck on a hill or miles from home."
Cycling also offers great variety: You can take it easy and burn 300 calories in an hour, or you can push yourself and burn more than 1,100 calories in the same amount of time.Try the elliptical
You can get a running-style workout with no impact. Like the stationary bike, you can choose your speed and torque to intensify your workout or dial it back when you're not feeling so strong. The elliptical has the added benefit of static or moving handles; if you don't want to work your arms, you don't have to. (Be sure to avoid these 10 elliptical mistakes.)Get some class
A fitness professional leading a class can help you adjust your position to make sure you're not risking injury. "If you take a lower-impact aerobic class, position yourself where you can see all the exercises clearly," says Colvin. "Don't hide in the back, and make sure to talk to the teacher before class so she knows to monitor your technique and make sure you're safe and in proper form."
The added benefit of a class, whether it's aerobics, yoga, spin, or Pilates, is that you're not alone. "Classes are motivating," says Popa-Erwin. "There's a teacher telling you that you can do it, and there's a feeling of community and family with the other students. You can have an accountability buddy, and that's better than doing it alone."
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