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Is It Dangerous to Exercise When You're Underweight?

author image Stacy Armada
Stacy Armada began writing in 2011. Her past athletic accomplishments and passion for exercise led her to pursue a career in health and fitness. She received a B.S. in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science from California State University, San Bernardino. Armada is a certified personal trainer through the NASM.
Is It Dangerous to Exercise When You're Underweight?
Rediscover a healthier weight. Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

In a media hyped world where losing weight is everything, it can be hard to believe that people need to gain weight. A combination of the right kind of exercise, along with the correct caloric intake, can help an underweight person move toward a healthier weight. However, being underweight should not be confused with anorexia, which is the term used when being underweight is taken to an extreme. Some individuals, both women and men, are naturally leaner than others. For many gaining weight can be just as much of a challenge as losing weight.

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Underweight Individuals

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In general terms there are two types of people categorized as being underweight. Those considered to be healthy, but below the normal weight for their height. Then, there are those with significant health concerns caused by their extremely low body weight. According to the American Council on Exercise, those with extremely low weights are at high risk for respiratory diseases, tuberculosis, digestive disorders and some cancers, and women are more likely to become infertile or give birth to unhealthy babies. Those who fall in either category are advised to have a physical with a physician for clearance to begin any exercise routine.

Caloric Intake

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It is as simple as calories in, those consumed through food intake, and calories out, those expended through activity. However, for most that simple equation is far more complex. An underweight individual needs to focus on eating more meals throughout the entire day. For instance, instead of the basic three meals aim for five to six in combination with snacks. However, when increasing your food consumption it is important that the extra calories come from a healthy nutritious source. For weight gain you should increase caloric intake between 500 to 1,000 calories a day.

Strength Training

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Beyond consuming more calories than you burn in a day, you will need to combine your increase in calories with strengthening exercises that focus on toning and building strong bones and muscles. Through strength training you will be able to add lean mass to your body. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the average adult who does not strength train will lose approximately 4 to 6 lbs. of muscle tissue per decade throughout the aging process. Therefore, it is essential for an underweight person to lift weights in order to not only successfully gain healthy weight, but to prevent losing muscle mass. It is highly advised to have a fitness and health professional set up a personalized exercise routine composed of eight to 10 exercises that will target all of your major muscle groups. Each exercise should aim for lifting eight to 12 reps, and the frequency of the exercise program should be structured so that there are at least 48 hours between training sessions. This will allow ample time for your muscles to rest and recover.

Aerobic Activity

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Most people will associate aerobic activity with losing weight. When done correctly, it can assist in proper weight gain. It is important to include cardiovascular activity into an underweight individual's workout routine because of its health benefits, such as, a stronger heart and increased bone density. Your goal is to perform 30 minutes of physical activity three to five days a week in combination with your resistance training. Take caution not to overdue your activity as your goal is to gain healthy weight.

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