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Walking and Obesity

Walking and Obesitity - ObeseObesity is at epidemic proportions across the USA. A recent study from the CDC pegs over 1/3rd of adult Americans as clinically obese. In addition, 17% of American youth are obese. Obesity has dramatic effects on health including a wide list of increased risks for: Coronary Heart Disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, hypertension, stroke, higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, and gynecological problems. Obesity’s effect isn’t just on health. It has a profound financial cost to the individual, insurance companies and the public as the average increase in medical cost for an obese person is $1,429. That totals out to $147 billion annually in increased medical costs. So if you won’t trim down for the health benefits, do it for the financial ones.

What is Obesity?
Technically a clinically obese person is someone who has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. It is computed by the following formulas:

Walking and Obesity - BMI FormulaWalking and Obesity - BMI Formula (Metric)

With that formula you can determine for yourself where you fall in the following chart:




Below 18.5






30.0 and Above

If you don’t want to do the calculation yourself, you can use the following tool from the Mayo clinic to calculate BMI for you.

Walking and Obesity - BMI Tool

Keep in mind, that it is only a number and not an absolute verdict on your level of obesity. Very fit athletes, with significant musculature ay register an obese or overweight BMI measure when they do not actually have a weight problem. Additionally, older people’s BMI computation may underreport their obesity level. Always consult a doctor to get a more accurate assessment.

What to do About it
First, if you are clinically obese, see a physician and get proper medical advice. Most, but not all people will fall into two generic categories: those taking in too much food and not exercising enough and those who have some medical abnormality like a thyroid problem. Since we are not doctors, we are not going to comment on the latter.

For those who are eating too much, of usually the wrong foods, and not exercising enough the formula is simple in practice but extremely difficult in execution. You need to increase the level of your activity to burn more calories and reduce your caloric intake. Eating healthier food choices will also help.

We come from an athletic background, but have coached many beginning walkers who were clinically obese. Ideally, you should see a nutritionist to develop a personal dietary plan. However, following common sense is a good start. Fad diets are non-sustainable. A simple plan to reduce calories, reduce fats (especially saturated and trans fats), reduce simple sugars and carbohydrates, and increase high fiber foods is the key to success. If you are not prediabetic or diabetic, carbs are not the devil. Excessive carbs and simple carbs are. Pick wisely and you will be significantly more successful.

If you try to lose weight by diet alone you will struggle. The body will shift into a preservation mode and slow its metabolism. The easiest way to combat this is to add exercise. There are two forms of exercise that will help with reducing your obesity. Note, I didn’t say losing weight. If you gain muscle mass and reduce body fat you may or may not initially lose weight. The key is to lose fat and increase lean body mass. Therefore you want to combine cardiovascular work (primarily to burn calories and promote fat loss) and strength training (to build lean body mass and thereby promote fat loss).

Strength training, builds muscle. Muscle burns calories. The more calories you burn, the more fat you will drop. By adding a strength training program, you will build muscles that will burn calories even when you are just sitting around.

Walking Off the Obesity
The key to successful weight loss programs is exercise. The key to successful exercise programs is consistency. Simply put, weekend warriors, working out for hours once a week are not likely to succeed. They will have a higher risk of injury and not establish the same metabolism gains as those exercising regularly. Instead, exercising a moderate amount multiple days per week is the key to success. However, an obese person has to be very careful when starting an exercise program. First, MAKE SURE YOU CONSULT A PHYSICIAN BEFORE STARTING an exercise program.

As an obese person, your choices for exercise are limited. The two safest are going to be swimming and walking. Swimming actually burns more calories per hour (~500 calories for a slow paced 155lb person) vs. walking (~280 calories for a 3.5 mph 160lb person). However, unless you have a swimming pool in your backyard, swimming can be quite inconvenient. It also doesn’t help prevent osteoporosis. If you factor the time getting to the swimming pool into the equation, walking usually wins. That said, there is nothing wrong with breaking up your workout routine with walking and swimming intermixed. It will give your body a break and help reduce the stress on your bones and joints. This is especially helpful when you are just starting your walking / weight loss program.

A complete walking program will be placed on line shortly. However, there are some basic guidelines that you should follow. First, MAKE SURE YOU CONSULT A PHYSICIAN BEFORE STARTING an exercise program. We can’t stress this enough.

Once you’ve been given the green light, get yourselves a good sturdy pair of walking shoes. I would recommend going to a knowledgeable specialty store and asking them to assess your gait. There are different kinds of shoes made to stabilize your body in different ways depending upon how your foot lands. Starting with a stable base is the key to staying injury free. We often get questions about minimalist shoes. For those that are biomechanically gifted and feather light, this may be an option. However, as an obese beginning walker we STRONGLY recommend you steer AWAY from minimalist shoes.

Once you have your shoes, please make sure you warm up properly and stretch to cool down when you are finished. Start by walking every other day and progress slowly. A general rule of thumb is not to increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% per week. If you are without professional guidance, this may be a how you should proceed. How much you walk the first day will be determined by how overweight you are and your current fitness level. Perhaps it will only be a mile. For some maybe a ½ mile. If you start with too few miles, you may slow your initial progress, but you will be fine. If you start with too many miles and get hurt, you may never start back. Remember, you have the rest of your life. If you start slow, but are consistent you will get there. Don’t rush.




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