Exercise is something that you know is healthy, something you feel you should do, but it is difficult to consider exercise when you have a lot of excess weight. Now that you have had weight loss surgery (or are thinking about it, and reading ahead)—it is time to begin an exercise program.

Walking is the simplest of all exercises. Doing it around your office at work during the day does not count. That’s what you do for a living. Exercise is time you dedicate to doing something just for yourself. One of my favorite lines from Jimmy Buffet is, Your body is a temple, don’t treat it like a tent (paraphrased, but in the audio edition of this book I will sing it).

No excuses are accepted here. Besides, there are a lot of benefits. The time you are walking provides you free time to think, allows your weight loss to proceed much faster, helps your bowels move better, and will give you an overall feeling of good health. Okay, initially you won’t always feel so great. In fact, the worst part of exercise is thinking about it. Once you do it, you actually feel better.

The goal is to increase walking until you are doing four miles in one hour, and doing that four times a week. This is not a leisurely walk, this is a paced program, a fast walk that. You should strive for this goal before weight loss surgery and plan to get back to as soon as you can afterwards. If it is now few months after weight loss surgery and you are still not back to exercising, it is time to think about walking. All right, now that you have thought about it—how do you start.

Before your start exercising…

First, talk to your doctor. Not just your weight loss surgeon, but also your primary care doctor or your cardiologist. Do not start without doing this. Your doctor, or the nurse, will also show you how to take your own pulse because during this time you will need to monitor your pulse rate. Your doctor may even have some target goals for you. You will want to check your pulse because, as you become more conditioned, your pulse rate will decrease.

Your heart rate should not exceed 220 minus your age in years, so, if you are 40 years old then your maximum heart rate should be 180 beats per minute. We want your heart rate to reach about 60 to 80 percent of the maximum. (For example, if you are 40 years old, then we want your heart rate to be 110 to 140 beats per minute). You should go over this with your doctor because some people will have different goals, and some medicines will affect the heart rate (beta blockers like propranolol). You should also visit is a physical therapist. They not only can help you get started on a program, but can show you some simple things to do that will prevent injury. The best time to prevent injury is before your walk—by stretching properly, and after your walk—the cooling down phase.

When I started to jog (which was a long time ago) I was told that if I couldn’t talk while I was jogging, then I probably needed a rest. The same is true with walking. If you cannot talk, then you need to rest and catch your breath. But for me, not talking is difficult no matter what I am doing so I knew that if I couldn’t talk, then something was wrong.

During your walk, we will want you to check your pulse, so if you have one of those gizmos that do it for you, great, but you do need to learn to check your own.

The next part is also easy for most people: you have to go shopping. Yup, if you are going to start this program, reward yourself by purchasing the right stuff for your walk. Start with a good pair of shoes. Shoes are critical. You want a pair of shoes that supports you and fits wellAlmost any foot store or athletic foot store will help you with this. Shoes are critical. You want a pair of shoes that supports you and fits well. Clothing is also important—I highly recommend cotton (Pima cotton, of course). Select clothes that breathe, are easy to clean, and are stylish. So, shop for shoes, some t-shirts, a nice pair of shorts, and go for it.

If you want to spend some real money, get a device that tells you how far you have walked. They cost about twenty bucks. If you have the cash, you might even get one of those little devices that tell you your heart rate (some watches have them).

Living in Phoenix Arizona means I have heard the “it is too hot” excuse from many weight loss surgery patients. When I lived in Alaska, the excuse was “the weather is too bad,” or “it’s raining too much.” The only acceptable excuse for skipping your exercise is one from your physician. But the key is to find a place to walk that is fun. Shopping malls are fun because they are air conditioned, and you can window shop for new clothes as your sizes change. Walking is just that,—it isn’t wandering, it isn’t a slow saunter—it is moving at a nice brisk pace.

Next, you need a walking buddy. If you have someone to go with you, it helps motivate you on days when you just don’t want to do it. In fact, it is best to get a few of you together to walk—the more the merrier.