Obesity poses major health risks including joint problems, heart attack, stroke and early morbidity. While exercise is key to shedding weight and reducing obesity, it can also pose some risks to the severely obese. This doesn't mean you shouldn't exercise because the risks of remaining obese typically outweigh the risks of exercise. However, you should consult your doctor before beginning a new fitness routine to ensure that you are healthy enough to exercise. Take it slow for the first few weeks and ask your doctor if there are any specific precautions you should take.
Cardiovascular exercise raises the heart rate, providing the heart muscle with exercise that can strengthen it over time. However, if your heart rate goes too high, cardiovascular exercise can provoke a heart attack and other cardiac episodes such as stroke and arrhythmia. While anyone can have a cardiac episode while exercising, the obese are at an increased risk. Obese people tend to have higher blood pressure, weaker hearts and poor circulation, both of which can increase their risk of cardiac episodes. Ask your doctor about your target maximum heart rate; this is the rate that your heart should not exceed during physical exercise. For most people, this rate is 220 minus your age, but your target rate may differ depending upon your level of obesity and your overall health.
Exercise requires you to breathe more rapidly, and people unaccustomed to exercising may end up hyperventilating instead. Cardiac problems such as high blood pressure or poor circulation -- to which obese people are prone -- may also make breathing more difficult. If you have trouble catching your breath, slow down and focus on taking slow, deep breaths. Do not sit down, as this can actually cause your heart rate to temporarily spike and make breathing more difficult. Instead, stand or walk in place while drinking water.
Excess weight places additional stress on joints, and obese people are more likely to suffer from joint problems, including arthritis. Some exercises, such as running, are stressful to the joints. In extreme cases, pressure on your joints can cause them to break, can cause muscle sprains or strains and can exacerbate old injuries.
Exercise requires your body to move rapidly. In obese people, this may mean increased friction on the skin. Sweating can make this friction worse, causing heat rashes or yeast infections. Wear exercise gear designed to wick away moisture to prevent yeast problems on the skin. Applying talcum powder to problem areas can decrease friction and make exercise more comfortable.