Safe, Joyful Movement for People of All Weights: Overcoming Fear of Injury and Falls
Exercise. For many people, this simple word can spark feelings of dread, discomfort, guilt, or reluctance. Unpleasant memories of childhood sports or gym classes, physical discomfort, and difficulty finding pleasurable activities or time to exercise may all contribute to negative feelings towards physical activity. For some people with obesity, however, the fear of injury or falls is an even greater obstacle to exercise, according to recent research. This finding has significant implications for health and well-being. In this article, we will explore the importance of physical activity and the impact of fear of injury on exercise for people with obesity. We will also discuss strategies for making movement safe and joyful for people of all weights.
Why be Active?
Physical activity is crucial for good health. It can help combat anxiety and depression, prevent bone thinning, tone muscle, improve sleep quality, lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and improve cholesterol levels. Regular physical activity can provide numerous health benefits, which would require numerous medications to achieve. Exercise is also an essential component of weight loss programs. Research shows that exercise helps with weight maintenance and may even help with weight loss. In addition to burning calories, regular exercise also builds muscle mass, which is important because muscles are metabolically active and release proteins that can help decrease appetite and food intake.
Fear of Injury Hinders Exercise for People with Obesity
A recent study followed 292 participants enrolled in an eight-week medical weight loss program in Sydney, Australia. All participants met the criteria for obesity or severe obesity, and the average age was 49. One-third of the participants were male, and two-thirds were female. At the beginning of the study, participants completed a 12-question injury perception survey. The majority reported a fear of injury or falling, and believed that their weight made injury more likely to occur. One-third of the participants reported that their fear of injury stopped them from exercising. The researchers also recorded weight, height, and waist circumference, and administered strength tests during the first, fourth, and last sessions.
When the study ended, the researchers found that the participants who were most concerned about getting injured had not lost as much weight as those who did not express this fear. Those who had not lost as much weight also tended to have the highest scores of depression, anxiety, and sleepiness. Fear of injury can fuel a dangerous cycle that makes it more difficult for people with obesity to engage in physical activity. This avoidance can lead to decreased physical fitness, weight gain, and a greater risk of falls and fractures.
Overcoming Fear of Injury
Fear of injury can be a significant barrier to physical activity for people of all sizes. For those with obesity, this fear can be particularly acute. However, there are strategies that can help people overcome this fear and engage in safe, joyful movement. Here are a few tips:
- Start small and build gradually
It is essential to start small and build gradually to avoid injury and build confidence. Consider starting with low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, or cycling. Aim for 10-15 minutes of activity per day and gradually increase the time and intensity.
- Find enjoyable activities
Finding enjoyable activities can make exercise more fun and less of a chore. Try different activities such as dancing, yoga, or group fitness classes to find what feels best. Experiment with different times of day and different settings to find what works for you.
- Seek support
Finding support from friends, family, or a fitness professional can help build confidence and provide accountability. Consider joining a fitness group or class, hiring a personal trainer, or working with a physical therapist to develop a safe exercise plan.
Benefits of Physical Activity
There are numerous benefits to being physically active. Regular exercise helps combat anxiety and depression, prevents bone thinning, tones muscles, helps you sleep better, lowers your blood pressure and blood sugar, and improves your cholesterol levels. It would take numerous medications to do all that routine physical activity can do for you.
Weight loss programs often incorporate exercise. Research shows that exercise helps with weight maintenance and may even help with weight loss. Beyond burning calories, regular exercise also builds muscle mass. This matters because muscles are metabolically active, releasing proteins that play a role in decreasing appetite and food intake.
Fear of Injury and Falling
Despite the many benefits of exercise, fear of injury and falling can be a significant barrier to physical activity for individuals who are overweight or obese. A recent study found that many people with obesity fear injury and falling, which interferes with their willingness to exercise. The study followed 292 participants enrolled in an eight-week medical weight loss program in Sydney, Australia. All met criteria for obesity or severe obesity. The average age was 49; one-third of participants were male and two-thirds were female.
At the beginning of the study, participants filled out a 12-question injury perception survey. The majority reported fear of injury or falling and believed their weight made injury more likely to occur. One-third said that their fear stopped them from exercising. The researchers also recorded weight, height, and waist circumference and administered strength tests during the first, fourth, and last sessions.
When the study ended, the researchers found that the participants most concerned about getting injured hadn’t lost as much weight as those who did not express this fear. Those who hadn't lost as much weight also tended to have the highest scores of depression, anxiety, and sleepiness.
Fear of injury can fuel a dangerous cycle. Exercise is healthy at every weight; it protects your heart, lowers your blood sugar, boosts your mood, and tamps down anxiety. It also builds balance. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking prevents bone thinning. If worries about injury or falls cause people to avoid exercise, they miss out on the balance-building, muscle-and-bone-strengthening, and mood-enhancing benefits of regular activity. They may be more likely to fall and possibly more likely to experience fractures if they do.
Tips for Safe and Joyful Movement
Everyone, at every weight, needs to find ways to exercise safely, confidently, and joyfully. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Start low and go slow: If you’re not currently active, start by simply sitting less and standing more. Try walking for two minutes every half hour. If you’re afraid of falling, try walking in place or alongside a friend or loved one who can provide security and comfort.
Ask for guidance: Consider joining a YMCA where you can engage in supervised activities, or ask your doctor for a prescription for physical therapy to help you improve your balance and build your confidence.
Try different activities to see what works for you: Walking is a simple, healthful activity, but it’s not the only form of activity you can try. You might enjoy swimming or water aerobics. Try pedaling a seated bike or an arm bike (upper body ergometer) that allows you to stay seated while you propel pedals with your arms instead of your feet.
If you are struggling with fear of injury or falling when it comes to exercise, consider seeking guidance from a physical therapist. A physical therapist can provide individualized exercises to improve your balance, build your confidence, and help you move more safely and confidently. Don't let fear hold you back from enjoying the many benefits of regular physical activity. Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist today to find safe and enjoyable ways to stay active.
Learn more at Emery Physical Therapy in Mt. Prospect, IL and Emery Physical Therapy in Oakbrook Terrace, IL.