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Exercise for the Morbidly Obese

You can improve your health with just a few minutes of walking a day.

You can improve your health with just a few minutes of walking a day.

Why Exercise Is Important

Whether you consider yourself cuddly, chubby, overweight, or just plain fat, if you are more than 100 pounds overweight or have a BMI of 35 or above, your doctor considers you morbidly obese. That scary-sounding term means that you are more likely to suffer from weight-correlated diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoarthritis than normal-weight or slightly overweight folk.

The good news? Getting regular exercise can decrease your risk of many weight-related conditions, help you sleep better at night, and get rid of pesky aches and pains.

Being Active Doesn't Have to Be Intimidating

And there's no need to feel like starting an exercise plan means you have to start measuring and counting everything you put into your mouth. Exercise doesn't have to be about losing weight unless you want it to be; you can get fitter and healthier at any weight.

Exercise also doesn't have to mean going to the gym. You don't have to worry whether you'll fit on the equipment or wonder how you look in comparison to the gym rats; there are exercises you can do in the privacy of your own home to get you started, and there are lots of fun activities to get you fit that don't involve ever crossing the threshold of a gym. There are also plenty of attractive, comfortable options for workout clothes for large-size people, so you'll never need to feel self-conscious about how you look.

Let's get started!


If you are very overweight and have been living a sedentary lifestyle, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise regimen. Ask for guidance about what your body can handle at first, so that you don't hurt your joints or get your heart rate too high.

Health Benefits

Regular activity can:

  • improve your heart and lung function
  • increase your strength, balance, and flexibility
  • build stronger bones
  • give you more energy
  • help you sleep better
  • lower your stress level and make you feel good about yourself

Regular exercise can also help protect you from Type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease. If you already suffer from one of these conditions, exercise may help control your condition; ask your doctor about how much and what type of exercise you should be doing.

Lace up your sneakers and walk around the block to start getting more active.

Lace up your sneakers and walk around the block to start getting more active.

How to Become More Active

Start slowly! If you've been spending your weekends on the sofa after spending all week in an office chair, you risk hurting yourself if you go all out right away. The best activity you can easily do to start becoming more active and increasing your fitness level is to walk.

Your walks can be as short as you need them to be at first, but they should be in addition to the normal walking you already do every day. For instance, if you usually walk down the block to get your mail, that doesn't count, but if you continue around the block the long way or walk an extra block past the mailbox, it does.

As a heavy person, your back and knees may ache at first. If you need to rest along your walk you should, especially at first. You don't want to make yourself sick, or stop exercising because it feels too unpleasant. If you feel too achy for a 20-minute walk, try to fit in four 5-minute walks instead. If your climate is unpleasant or you tend to sweat a lot in the sun, try walking in your local air-conditioned mall. Some malls even open early especially for walkers.

Fitness Activities You Can Do at Home

If you're self-conscious about your size or find it difficult to get around, you can start getting active in the privacy of your own home.

Fitness Video Games

For many years, exercise DVDs were the best way to get a workout, but now you have a more personalized option: fitness video games. The Wii and the Kinect for Xbox 360 both offer fitness games that will let you move your body at your own pace and improve your fitness level easily. (Note: The weight limit on the Wii balance board is 330 pounds, so you may not be able to use that component. However, there are other games for the Wii besides Wii Fit Plus that do not use the balance board.)

Chair Workout

Do a chair workout video in front of your computer. There are several good workouts you can find on YouTube, like the example above. This video allows you to get started moving without the danger of losing your balance and falling or having to get down on the floor.

Climbing Stairs

Climb stairs. No, not on the Stairmaster at the gym—right in your own home or office building! Climbing stairs is a great activity because you can start to feel results right away; after making a few extra trips up and down the stairs, the climb gets easier, and you don't have to stop at the landing. After a week or so, you may not feel winded at the top anymore!


Try dancing while you do your chores. It may sound silly, but if you are blasting some feel-good tunes while you scrub the tub or wash the dishes, you may be inspired to move your body to the music and get your heart pumping a little bit, or reach a little bit further and scrub a little bit harder. You'll end up with an improved fitness level and a cleaner house—a win all around!

Try a gentle hike the first time, and remember to bring plenty of water.

Try a gentle hike the first time, and remember to bring plenty of water.

Fitness Activities Outside the Home

Once you've stopped getting winded climbing stairs and can walk a mile without a backache, you're ready to take on the world of fun fitness!

  • Try swimming at a local pool for a workout that will be easy on your joints. You may not sweat when you swim, but your body will feel it, I promise you! If your pool offers a water aerobics class, give it a shot; you can modify the exercises if they are too difficult at first, but you may surprise yourself with what your body can do in the water.
  • Take a dance class with your spouse. Learning how to waltz, tango, or salsa dance can get your heart rate up without feeling too much like "exercise," and once you've learned the basics, you have another option for a fun date night.
  • Take a hike. Map out a short, easy trail for your first time. If you like it and are ready for more, increase your distance and add some hills. Your fitness will increase, and you'll raise your spirits by spending time in nature. Don't forget your camera!
  • Joining a gym is always an option for access to fitness equipment and classes, but frankly, gyms aren't always designed for larger people. Some machines have a relatively low weight limit, and the equipment handles may not be spaced far enough apart to be comfortable. Ask for a tour before joining a gym, try out the equipment (don't just look at it and guess whether you'll fit), and speak to a manager about the weight limits on the machines, not just a receptionist who probably does not know the specifications for the machines.
  • Download Pokémon Go on your smartphone, and start walking around your neighborhood catching Pokémon. You don't have to walk fast, but the allure of finding the creatures or reaching the next Pokéstop will help you walk farther than you thought possible. And you can take regular breaks when you reach one of the gyms inside the game—you can catch your breath and battle for supremacy at the same time!

Athletic Wear and Accessories for Obese People

You have nothing to wear? Nonsense! Makers of athletic wear know that larger people want and need clothing, too. Of course, for women who can fit into a 3X or men who wear a 3XL comfortably, you will be able to find a large selection of athletic wear in conventional stores such as Old Navy, Walmart, Target, and Macy's. Some stores may carry 4X sizes, but it can be hit or miss. That's where online shopping comes in!

For women, and are fantastic resources.

  • has casual workout gear for someone just beginning an activity program, including sweats to size 5X and bathing suits to 32W. One caveat: while they have a large selection of sports bras for plus-size women, the truly large-breasted may need to look elsewhere for more support, at least if you want to do any activity involving more bounce than walking does.
  • Junonia is for serious plus-size athletes as well as beginners, and has specialized gear for tennis, golf, swimming, yoga, biking, and skiing in addition to basic fitness wear. Many styles are available up to size 6X. Don't use the discomfort of poorly fitting bras as an excuse any longer, either; Junonia also sells sturdy, supportive sports bras up to size 50F.

For men, try or Westport Big and Tall offers high-quality, name-brand activewear (shorts, tracksuits, swimwear) up to 6X in many cases. KingSize Direct is less expensive and offers some casual styles up to 9X. Also, if you want to identify with your favorite team while you work out, they have an extensive selection of MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, and Nascar-branded merchandise.

Don't forget the sneakers! If your sneakers are old and dusty, getting a new pair of supportive, well-fitting sneakers can make a huge difference. You'll feel more energetic with fresh sneakers on, and your back and knees may not ache as much. If you have wide feet, try on New Balance sneakers; they have more wide styles and sizes than any other major sneaker brand.

One last product that you may want to consider is anti-chafing gel or roll-on. Larger-size people can suffer miserably from thighs or underarms chafing when they walk, and these products will stop that horrible irritation from happening.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Where can I buy exercise clothing for the morbidly obese? I already had bariatric surgery and had lost 73 pounds. I need to buy a new swimsuit because I have lost weight.

Answer: There are a lot of options for plus-size swimwear online. Junonia offers high-quality athletic swimwear up to a size 6X. If you're on a budget, try Woman Within, which offers good sales and sizes up to 34.


Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on August 11, 2016:

Smart idea, caircair. And anything that helps you move a little more or a little longer is a great tool. Plus if you have a shopping cart, you can put your purse or bag into it, so you don't have the weight of your stuff adding to your back (or neck, or shoulder) pain.

Caroline from Pacific Northwest on August 11, 2016:

I have excruciating lower back pain if I walk too long. One thing I've found that helps is if I use a shopping cart or a personal utility cart while walking. If I'm not actually going to use it for shopping, I'll load my cart with a couple bags of books for weight. Having something to lean on seems to help keep the back pain more manageable.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on February 24, 2015:

Hendrika, I am sorry to hear about your knees. Why don't you ask your doctor if you can carry on doing upper-body exercises so that you don't lose all your fitness? Some lightweight dumbbells could go a long way to keeping your upper body strong and toned, even if you can't get around well for the moment.

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on February 24, 2015:

This makes me so sad because I cannot exercise anymore. True I am overweight now, but as the osteoarthritis in my knees made exercise impossible I feel hopeless. I never used to be overweight and I was very active with my dancing and gym and bicycle. I miss those days as now even my shopping is torture and my medical aid does not pay for knee replacement surgery! Okay, enough wallowing in my own sorrows.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on August 04, 2012:

Hi, Sharyn. I'm glad to hear that my hub has motivated you to get moving! Remember, if you have air conditioning there is a lot you can do in the comfort of your own home, or drive to a nearby mall and walk around there. And hopefully the weather will cool down soon -- summer's 2/3 of the way done!

Sharon Smith from Northeast Ohio USA on August 03, 2012:

Great article and very motivating to me. I've gained some weight lately which is unusual for summer but I think because it is so hot this year, I don't feel like moving.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on July 30, 2012:

Thanks, Natasha. I hope they help people, too. Every step a sedentary person takes is a step toward a healthier life.

Natasha from Hawaii on July 30, 2012:

These are great tips. I know several people who struggle with getting active but don't feel comfortable joining a gym or exersizing in public. Gyms seem to be full of really in shape people! I am pretty in shape but feel kind of out of place in gyms. I think a lot of time people don't realize just how much difference small differences can make, with time. A walk around the block is a step in the right direction. I really hope these tips can help folks out and encourage people who think they can't get more active.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on July 24, 2012:

Ha! I like your turn of phrase, clevercat! Thanks for reading.

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on July 23, 2012:

Greatly constructive hub for those of us with plenty of bounce to the ounce! Voted up and useful.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on July 19, 2012:

Yes, it's true, Tonipet; these exercises can be a good way for thin sedentary people to get active, as well. I'm glad to hear that climbing stairs has worked so well for you.

Tonette Fornillos from The City of Generals on July 19, 2012:

Climb stairs at home, I so agree with this one. This does not only make the heart pump but so convenient you can do a great exercise right in your own home. I don't have any exerciser at home but I have the stairs. Very convenient for both fat and thin. Useful tips you have Brainy Bunny, our fat friends will thank you. I too thank you.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on July 19, 2012:

GoodLady: Yes, sometimes it is easier to take the first steps (so to speak) in your own home to build confidence. Thanks for reading!

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on July 19, 2012:

Really encouraging and very helpful. And so possible. I like the way it all could start; privately. Nice.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on July 19, 2012:

Thank you, Alicia. I hope it does encourage people to get moving!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 18, 2012:

This is a very useful and encouraging hub, Brainy Bunny. It contains lots of great ideas to help people who are overweight get fit.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on July 18, 2012:

Thanks for reading, Twins. I have gone through periods in my life when I have struggled to remain active, but I try to remember that the healthier I am, the more fun life is. Travel, playing with your kids, a hike through a forest in autumn: these are the things that add meaning and joy to life, and you can't do them if you can't get off the couch.

Karen Lackey from Ohio on July 18, 2012:

I am a huge fan of exercise. I played a Division I college sport and have been active my whole life. I know that everyone can pick up fitness at any point in their lives. You have some amazing tips to help those who are overweight or simply have been away from fitness. Up and useful. Great job!