How Can Exercise and Surgery Work Together?

Post-operatively, exercise is always a good idea, especially if it’s tailored, fun and effective. If you’re thinking about having bariatric surgery such as a gastric sleeve or gastric bypass, you may have heard that your weight “melts off,” especially in the early days. It is true, that for some people (not all) the anatomical restriction and then the metabolic changes which occur in the months following surgery can lead to rapid weight loss. So why do we recommend that you exercise?

exercise and bariatric surgery

We get it, for many of you, exercise might seem like the last thing you want to do. Risk of injury; embarrassment; lack of motivation or low fitness level can all make working out seem like a daunting task. So if you’re going to lose weight anyway, why would we recommend starting an exercise program? What benefit does exercising have for your weight loss surgery journey? In this article, written just in time for Exercise Right Week, we look at when, how and why exercise is crucial to your success in the months, and indeed years, after weight loss surgery.

First of all, when do I start exercising?

Weight loss surgery is major surgery, and we recommend you take it easy in the weeks following, in the same way, that you start gently with your diet. First up, you’ll want to take short walks. In the days after surgery, this will probably be around 10-15 minutes at a modest pace. You can increase this as you feel able to do so. Regular movement will help to get your blood flowing, reducing the risk of blood clots and encouraging normal bowel function. As the majority of bariatric surgery is performed laparoscopically, you should be ready to hit the streets and start exercising in earnest, a couple of weeks after surgery. Check with your surgeon to be sure. Taking it easy, whilst still moving, is the aim of the game in the days after surgery.

gentle walking after surgery

Once your wounds have healed, and you get clearance from your surgeon, you can increase your level of movement at a rate to suit you. Incorporating plenty of incidental activity (activity in normal daily movement) is a great place to start.
You may also be able to incorporate gentle exercise like swimming activities or walking. Swimming is also great in the early days, because it alleviates the load on your joints, reducing the risk of injury while you exercise.

A tailored exercise program is best

One of the earliest appointments we’d like you to make before surgery (apart from seeing your Dietitian) is to book in with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. Why? For prehab rather than rehab! Getting the right information to exercise safely and effectively is essential. A cookie-cutter exercise routine is futile in the early days. Sure, standard routines might be great for some (and one day you – we promise!) but to start with, you need expert help. Slogging it out at the gym trying to keep up with people half your age (and weight) is not the answer. Expecting to suddenly become Jamie-Lee Curtis (or Arnie) overnight is going to at best lead to disappointment. At worst, it could lead to injury.

Everybody is different. What an Exercise Physio has, is a unique way of determining what is going to work best for you and your body for right now. Taking into consideration all of those things that might have held you back in the past. They can identify and work with past injuries, anatomical structure, and your current weight and muscle tone. They also work with your own personal preferences when it comes to exercise style and even your own limiting ‘self-talk.’ Then, they can build you a personalised workout plan which ticks all the boxes for you.

Why should I bother?

“Come on, I’m losing weight anyway, do I really need it?” you ask. Yes, you may lose a lot of weight without even putting on your exercise shoes in the first 12 months after surgery. But you will also lose muscle and bone mass along with it. In fact in postmenopausal women, following weight loss surgery, there is a 7% chance of a long bone fracture due to osteoporosis/ osteopaenia. Being able to counter-balance that loss by incorporating weight-bearing exercise (also called resistance training) is a very good idea. It really is a case of “use it or lose it.” Increased muscle mass encourages a faster metabolic output so that you can burn more calories. Muscle tissue is the powerhouse of the body. And if you’re finding the weight is not ‘falling off’ for you, building that muscle is a great way to encourage weight loss.

If you have comorbidities, exercise is an even faster way to health. Exercise helps to reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. As well, you can increase bone density and even support changes to your biomechanics and encourage joint stability. It also has a really positive effect on mood due to the release of endorphins when you exercise.

Thinking ahead to lasting weight loss

Most of all, exercising after weight loss surgery is about forming healthy habits which give you every chance at lasting weight loss and health. There is growing research into how exercise can support long-term health after bariatric surgery. In modern surgical practice, we recognise that adopting crucial healthy lifestyle changes can enhance bariatric surgery in distinct ways.

bike riding lifestyle changes for lasting weight loss

About Exercise Right Week 2020

Exercise Right Week is brought to you by Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). This body accredits our wonderful Exercise Physiologists. This year’s theme is Movement is Medicine, and we encourage you to have a look at some of the ideas ESSA has for getting moving. Follow the hashtags #ExerciseRight2020 and #MovementisMedicine for all the ideas.

So be sure to embrace exercise and the wonderful benefits for you post-surgery, but don’t go it alone in the early days. If you have access to a great Exercise Physiologist, and your surgeon has a modern approach, then the process will be safe, fun and achievable! It is our sincere hope that the experience will inspire you to reach for goals you never imagined possible.

Want to know what life will really be like after surgery?

Why not head to our patient information area, to get all the facts.

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