Best exercises if you’re overweight and unfit

Many apologies, this post was supposed to go up last Wednesday – but didn’t, due to a slight technical hitch (er, I forgot to upload it). So here it is, the belated and now slightly out-of-sequence tenth part of the dieting basics series. I hope it was worth waiting for…

If you’re carrying a lot of extra weight, or if you rarely get any exercise, it’s important to build up gradually. Trying to start off at too high a level will leave you disappointed and frustrated – and can even cause injury.

The three best forms of exercise if you’re very out of shape are:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Housework or gardening


One of my favourite activities is a simple walk. This is one of the easiest ways to get started with exercising: you probably do some walking currently (even if it’s just round the office, or to the corner shop and back).

Try going for a short stroll daily, to begin with: that might just be to the end of the street and back, or around your block. Add a few minutes to your walk each day, until you can walk for half an hour continuously.

Once you’ve managed this (and take your time building up to this level if you were very out of shape to begin with … better to go slowly than give up altogether), start varying your route to make it a little more challenging. Try adding some uphill and downhill slopes for a more energetic workout, and vary the surfaces which you walk on – don’t just pound the pavements, but look for grassy or sandy areas where you can roam. Local parks or beaches are ideal for this.

Even on busy days, fit in a short walk. It might be a quick trip round the shops at lunchtime, or a leisurely evening stroll – but make sure you move those legs! Hopefully, you’ll quickly come to enjoy walking as a leisure activity; if you find it boring, try listening to music or walking and chatting with a friend.

Calories burned (if you weigh 11 stone – this will be higher if you’re heavier)

Exercise Calories
30 minutes gentle walking 88
30 minutes brisk walking 140


Like walking, swimming is a low-impact activity and is highly recommended if you have joint problems as the water supports your body weight and prevents stress being put on your knees, hips or elbows.

Many people are put off swimming from fear of “what other people will think”; if you’re overweight or out of shape, it’s difficult to feel entirely comfortable with your body in a swimsuit. Remember that lots of “normal” sized people are just as self-conscious about their bodies – no-one is likely to be staring at you, as they’ll be concentrating on swimming. It might help to go to a ladies’ or men’s night, or an adult lengths-only session which won’t be full of shrieking kids and teenagers.

As with walking, build up gradually; if the last time you were in a swimming pool was as a kid, don’t try to do thirty lengths straight away. Swim at a gentle pace and rest every few lengths to get your breath back.

There are plenty of swimming classes for adults as well as kids, so if you never learnt to swim – or if you know your technique needs work – why not sign up for one? You might also enjoy an aqua-aerobics class, which is a great way to exercise if you’re out of shape.

Calories burned:

Exercise Calories
30 minutes leisurely swimming 211
30 minutes moderate swimming 282

Housework or gardening

Seeing “housework” and “gardening” listed as types of exercises may surprise you – but these activities can clock up as many calories burned as an exercise class. And you’ll have a clean house or a tidy garden as an extra bonus, too!

As with walking and swimming, the key is to start off gently and take things at your own pace – don’t try to spring-clean the whole house in one day. Pick one room, or one section of the garden, to concentrate on. Start with low-intensity activities such as tidying, washing up and weeding – then move on to hoovering, scrubbing floors, cleaning windows and digging flowerbeds.

Be careful if you have to lift anything heavy, or stretch at an awkward angle – it’s not only top athletes and footballers who can injure themselves exercising…

Calories burned:

Exercise Calories
30 minutes scrubbing floors 194
30 minutes mowing lawn 194
30 minutes general cleaning 123

The next instalment in the series is Keeping a food and exercise diary – make sure you’ve bookmarked The Office Diet, or subscribed to the RSS feed, so that you don’t miss it.

(Image above by sirwiseowl)

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Basics

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