Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Is running any good for overweight and obese people?

Today I've got a guest post for you, from Alan Jackson MSc, FCIMSPA, who is the Founder of Discovery Learning & Weight Management Centre

Is running any good for overweight and obese people?

I have been a weight management practitioner for 20 years now and as you would imagine, I frequently come across people that want to lose weight but are uncertain as to which activity would suit them best.  More often than not they don’t seem too keen on the idea of running. Furthermore most people (me included at one time) would suggest to these people that running would be a bad idea and that perhaps walking or some gentle swimming might be a better bet.
That is until I met people like Phil, who was a smoker, heavy drinker and clinically obese.  There would have been many health professionals (me included) that would have tried to dissuade Phil from running and used our professional prowess and clinical judgement to justify our advice.  Phil was a definite case of giving the health professional the run around.  We were worrying about his obesity, his CVD risk factors such as smoking and blood pressure, but Phil was focussing on the goal and his route out of his destructive lifestyle. He knew what was right for him and as in all such cases, people know what is best for them. He knew he had to run.
Phil has subsequently completed many endurance runs and successfully ran the Snowdon Marathon in 2006; which has to be said is no mean feat for anyone. Phil is now a healthy and fit individual that is enjoying life to the full and his life has turned around.  If you are overweight or unfit and would like some inspiration, if you think that you can’t do it, you may wish to visit Phil’s excellent running blog. When you do, remember Phil’s starting point for his journey Phil’s Blog  
This really interested me and I have since had the pleasure of meeting many people like Phil that were very overweight or clinically obese and didn’t think they were capable of doing any exercise.  I subsequently set about building up a movement that would appeal to these people, in particular those that believed that their days of vigorous physical activity, running and sport in general were long behind them.  I spoke to football, rugby, running and martial arts clubs to see if they could help and before long FitFans was born.  FitFans aims to help people like Phil to make a start at doing something active that they thought they would never do again.  Once again if you are looking for some motivation to start running or getting fit, you could do a lot worse than taking a look at the FitFans project .
SWOT analysis
So let’s do a quick SWOT of running as an exercise for obese people, is it really a mainstream starter or does it just suit the hard cases and nutters that want to do it the tough way?
  • Can be done most anyplace – no membership fees required
  • Ideal for varying the intensity, duration and frequency to suit your fitness and objectives
  • Low outlay on equipment (though  decent running shoes are essential)
  • Not too time consuming - in the early phases!
  • Excellent for cardiovascular fitness and endurance
  • Excellent for weight loss
  • Suits the social animal or the recluse – run in clubs or run alone
  • Can be tough on joints (particularly knees) of overweight people
  • Not too much fun in winter or in blazing heat
  • May present a risk for those running alone if they have cardiovascular risk factors already
  • Discover your inner fitness and strength
  • Meet a whole new community of people – at the park or in clubs and events
  • Runners usually think carefully about diet and this is key for weight loss
  • Great for self-esteem and improving self-belief
  • May be a springboard for engaging in many other activities and sports
  • May be too hard and you could fall at the first (only if you go about it in the wrong way)
  • May further damage already impaired joints
  • May be embarrassing as I am so big
It will be up to each individual to undertake their own SWOT and determine if indeed running is for them.  All I can say at this point is that I have seen sufficient numbers of overweight and obese people take up running recently and providing they have gone about it the right way, they have outperformed other more sedentary weight loss clients by a country mile. I’m not sure if it is the running itself, or what it takes to be an obese runner that provides the effect (or maybe a bit of both) but either way the difference is stark.  
All that I can say is that I have been really stunned by the difference in those that do and those that don’t undertake vigorous physical activities such as running with respect to weight loss, diet and self-belief - which underpins all weight loss. I have come 360° with respect to running as a suitable exercise for weight loss and now I simply ask the client: “Would you like to see yourself running a few miles every day?”  They laugh and say:  “That will be the day!”  When that day does come however, they are utterly transformed. The confidence, belief and motivation that they exude makes them unrecognisable from their former self.  I love it when that day comes for my clients.
I hope that this article will help people that want to lose weight to consider running as a platform to achieve their weight loss goals.  Not all runners are ultra-fit psycho endurance masochists. Most are just ordinary folk, just like you or I.  So give running another look.
Alan Jackson is the Founder of Discovery Learning and Weight Management Centre which are health and fitness and wellness educational organisations for gym and fitness professionals and personal trainers.

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