When Mariellen Synan looked at pictures from her 39th birthday party, she said, she "nearly vomited" at the sight of her 250-pound body.
That was two years ago. Today the Carroll County resident is 65 pounds lighter. She wears a size 12 -- down from the size 22 she wore in January 2003. To accomplish this turnaround she joined a gym, hired a personal trainer and improved her diet. She now takes a demanding "body pump" class several times a week and uses an elliptical machine for 45 minutes three days a week.
(Scott Menchin - For the Washington Post)
Transcript: Excessive Exercise: The Moving Crew will discuss revised dietary guidelines that recommend Americans should make time for 30 to 90 minutes of daily physical activity.
Transcript: Post-Rehab Fitness: Sabrena Newton, fitness professional consultant was online to discuss getting back into the groove after physical therapy.
"I will not let myself go back to that 200 figure ever again," said Synan, a community outreach coordinator for the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "My goal was to fit into a leather skirt, and that Christmas I did."
The problem with stories like Synan's is that they don't mention the first chapter. Synan began her fitness comeback with baby steps. She started walking on a treadmill for just 10 minutes at a time, three days a week. But even that made her sore.
"It was awful," she said. "My whole body hurt. My legs would shake when I walked down steps."
Within three weeks, Synan added an elliptical machine. Within a month, she started taking aerobics classes. She observed at first, watching from the back of the room as other students exercised. Then she participated for only the first half of the class.
Anybody inspired by Synan's success needs to focus as much on the first moves as on their ultimate goal. Fitness experts say sedentary people who carry a lot of extra weight can derail their efforts and risk injury if they try to do too much too hard too soon. Novice exercisers, said Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, should "start low and go slow."
Beginning exercisers face a range of options: walking, low-impact exercise machines or working with a personal trainer who specializes in the unfit. Some exercise classes are tailored to the newly mobile. Swimming is a great way to start, and biking will work. It's even possible to start a safe and effective running program -- very slowly, of course.
Walking the Walk
Many experts say walking is the best way to begin exercising. It's certainly the cheapest, easiest and safest.
"It's low-impact. It's very easy on your body. It's a very natural movement," said Mark Fenton, author of several books about walking and host of a PBS show called "America's Walking." "For the vast majority of Americans -- but especially for the deconditioned and the overweight -- it is the perfect physical activity to start with if you haven't been doing anything in a while. . . . It uses the large muscles of your body, the large muscle groups of the legs and the trunk, and as you walk more vigorously, the arms as well."