Lose Weight and Reduce Pain: An Action Plan

Patients with chronic pain conditions like back pain, arthritis and fibromyalgia may not realize being overweight can have a huge impact on their pain. Losing that excess weight and becoming active can reduce and even eliminate your pain. But how can you safely get started? Our plan will get you exercising at almost any weight and with nearly any condition.

See your doctor before you begin any fitness or weight loss plan. While exercise is good for everybody, your doctor may have a few ideas about exercises to enjoy and ones to avoid.  Check in with a nutritionist or join a healthy nutritional weight loss program like Weight Watchers to make sure all your dietary needs are met. Then, get moving.

During your first week:

  • Start with walking. Unless you have specific disabilities, walking is the perfect exercise for almost everyone. Put on a good pair of walking shoes; grab your iPod and a watch and go.
  • Walk as far as you can from your starting point in ten minutes at a comfortable pace.
  • After ten minutes, evaluate how you feel. If you're winded, painful or tired, take a short break and walk home. If you feel fine, walk another five minutes before heading back. 
  • Finish with gentle arm and leg stretches. 
  • Repeat every day, working up to 20-30 minutes of walking.
  • Drink plenty of water.

During weeks two and three:

  • Increase your walking time to a full 30 minutes or walk at a faster pace or a longer distance than you did during your first week.
  • Make only one change per week.
  • Continue this pace, time or distance every day and stretch.

During week four:

  • Your heart, muscles and lungs should be getting used to exercise.
  • Take notes on how you feel. You may be surprised that even a few weeks of walking have improved your weight, mood, pain and sense of wellbeing significantly.
  • You may now be ready to try new forms of exercise like swimming, biking or the elliptical trainer.
  • Don't do anything extreme and remember:  make only one change per week.

During week five:

  • Check out several strength and flexibility training DVDs (from your library, video store or the Internet) that focus on bodyweight exercises like Yoga or Pilates or resistance bands.
  • Practice at your own pace until you're comfortable with an assortment of exercises.
  • Aim for two strength/flexibility sessions per week of about 15 to 20 minutes plus daily walking and stretching.
  • If any exercise causes pain, stop, rest and try it again later.

During week six:

  • Make an appointment with a certified fitness instructor at your gym who has experience working with your condition or 
  • Join a group class tailored for beginners or people with physical limitations and
  • Experiment with different strength and cardio activities.
  • Focus on using proper technique.

During weeks seven and beyond:

  • Give yourself at least a week to get used to any new fitness activity before adding another.
  • Your goal should be 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and stretching most days per week plus two or three strength training sessions.
  • Don't do strength training two days in a row.
  • Be consistent about exercising daily, but don't worry if some days are harder than others.

When you challenge yourself gently, it won't take long before the weight comes off and you begin enjoying a healthier, less painful life.