Take a moment and answer the following question for yourself.

What qualifies as exercise?

Now think about what you see on TV: The Biggest Loser, ads upon ads for diet supplements (see here for a pretty damn funny post about Alli and its side effects), and everything screaming at you to lose the weight in huge amounts as fast as you possibly can. This is the example set for couch potatoes. So our obese population sees extreme exercise as the norm and either tries to exercise that way and fails OR doesn’t even try because they “know” they cannot accomplish such a feat. On top of the personal ability assessment there is the assessment of  cost/benefit, i.e. “If I walk for ten minutes I won’t lose weight and I can’t run, so why bother?” Different exercises are assigned value based on their ability to hurry up and get us skinny. In the same way that we see an actress on tv and say “I wish I looked like that” while understanding that we never will, we look at people exercising at gyms and on tv and say “I wish I exercised” while understanding that we never will.

The truth that I keep returning to every Wednesday is that you have to eat less (and well) and exercise more. This is not very clear for people who may not know how to begin to do these things, especially when working against an exercise stereotype. Try telling someone who weighs 400 pounds that all they have to do is walk, just get up and move that bulk around, for 15 minutes a day in order to lose weight. A doable exercise to be sure, but because it isn’t running a marathon they believe that it can’t truly be exercise so they give up before they begin.

About.com has a great article on Obesity and Exercise and begins nicely by outlining some of the challenges faced by obese individuals when beginning or even simply planning a workout routine. However when Paige (the author) talks about her suggestions for an exercise routine she seems to select mostly expensive options. A personal trainer? An undeniable correlation exists between obesity and poverty (or at least lower middle class) and so many wouldn’t be able to hire Jillian Michaels to come to their home. An exercise ball? Those things (in my humble opinion) are the most awkward exercise prop to ever be invented. I understand the benefits, I understand why they are awesome, but if you are fat using one is an exercise in courage as well as stability. And really how much would I have to spend to get a pedometer that actually records my steps? Perhaps the only viable option is walking (seriously, just taking a walk) or buying a recumbent bike/pedaler to get that cardio in.

I face the same challenges with my exercise. If I’m not sore the next day I don’t feel like what I did was worth the time or the effort. It is difficult to push past the societal definition of exercise to see that everything from walking up stairs in lieu of the elevator or just walking the dog adds up. A 10 minute walk after breakfast and a 10 minute walk after dinner still equals 20 minutes of walking for the day. And honestly I’d rather have 20 cumulative minutes of something than 1,440 minutes of nothing. A small amount of exercise in your hand (or off your thighs) is worth more than all of the preconceived notions and hangups that exist in your head (or in the bush). Take what you can and, well…run with it.