Gyms for the Morbidly Obese

It can take courage to go to the gym if you're severely overweight.
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Gyms intimidate many people with their focus on the body and, in some cases, physical perfection. If you’re carrying 100 more pounds than the societal ideal, a gym can be a mortifying place to visit. But with a little courage and advanced planning, you can probably find a suitable place to work on your fitness. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Morbid Obesity

Morbid obesity is defined as being at least 100 pounds overweight, or having a body mass index of 40 or more. BMI is a ratio calculated from a person’s height and weight. A BMI of 20 to 25 is considered normal. The problem with being very heavy is that it can lead to many health problems, and even interfere with everyday activities such as walking, sleeping and breathing. Other conditions associated with morbid obesity include infertility, urinary incontinence, osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

Finding the Right Gym

Gyms have different personalities. Some give young people a place to check each other out, others attract guys who are serious about building giant muscles. Some gyms welcome lots of senior citizens or people rehabilitating from injuries. Unless you live in a town so small it has only one gym, it’s worth shopping around. You might want to make initial contact on the phone. Tell them you’re 100 pounds overweight and you’re considering a membership. Listen to how they react. If they’re welcoming and compassionate, this might be an OK place. You could ask if any other members are in a similar situation. But if you hear a shaming tone of voice, try the next gym on your list. Once you find some possibilities, visit the gyms in person. Don’t rule out community centers. These often attract a wide variety of sizes and ages, and many have weight rooms and offer fitness classes.

Working with a Trainer

If you’re new to exercise, or returning after a long hiatus, you might want to work with a personal trainer. A good trainer can help you devise a sensible program tailored to your needs. When visiting the gym, observe how the trainers work with other members. If possible, find a trainer who has experience working with people like you. Holly Kouvo owns a fitness business called Fitting Fitness In in Stow, Massachusetts. She specializes in working with morbidly obese clients. She is careful to hire trainers who can motivate clients while remaining empathetic. Choose your trainer carefully. If she doesn’t suit you, try somebody else.

Tips and Considerations

Ease into your fitness program.

If you feel self-conscious at the gym, try visiting during less popular hours. Depending on your schedule, working out in the late morning or early afternoon can protect you from feeling so many eyes on you. Plus, you’ll be less likely to have to wait for equipment. Start out slowly and work up to a longer cardio session. Larry Brooks of Keller, Texas, who was featured in the Los Angeles Times in April 2011, weighed 341 pounds when he started exercising. At first, he could only exercise for five minutes before he felt like his legs were on fire. But he kept at it, built his endurance, lost excess weight and improved his health.

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