Your care team at the UC Health Weight Loss Center will tell you what to expect before and after your surgery, but this brief exercise guide can help prepare you for what you need to do to facilitate your own recovery and build a healthy post-operative life.
Pre-Surgical Exercises: How to Prepare
An exercise routine post-surgery is a fundamental part of losing weight with bariatric surgery, but starting a plan before surgery is just as important and can help impact long-term results, in addition to healthy eating habits.
Research shows that starting a workout program before weight loss surgery can prepare your body for surgery, improve recovery time and make the transition into a healthy, active lifestyle much easier. The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery recommends that patients do light exercise for three to four days per week for up to a year before surgery.
The biggest challenge patients face when starting a pre-surgery exercise routine is mobility limitations due to excess weight. Jennifer Gooding, aquatics therapy and wellness supervisor at Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Care explains that movement of any kind is better than no movement.
“Take baby steps, set reachable goals, track your activity and give yourself credit for any improvements,” she says. “The stronger patients are going into surgery, the easier surgery, recovery and resuming exercise will be.”
Here are some suggestions that will allow you to work around mobility limitations and become more physically active:
- Just move. Try slowly increasing your daily activity by cleaning the house, parking farther away at the grocery store or using the stairs more frequently.
- Go for a walk. Start with a short distance and slowly increase as you feel comfortable.
- Do light aerobics. These exercises do not need to be intense—focus on movement and duration.
- Try yoga or Pilates. Chair yoga is a great place to start. These movements from a seated position can be easier to perform if you have mobility or joint issues.
All UC Health patients preparing for weight loss surgery complete a detailed fitness assessment with a licensed exercise physiologist. This is a one-on-one consultation designed to create a program for movement tailored to each patient and fits their personal comfort level.
Why Does Post-Surgical Exercise Matter?
After weight loss surgery, many people think that they no longer have to make an effort to maintain a healthy weight, but this isn't true. While weight loss surgery will change your life, you still need to prioritize a healthy lifestyle to maintain that weight loss and keep yourself in good condition.
Exercising post-surgery, as well as a nutritious diet, is critical to achieving and maintaining weight loss. A good exercise routine will help protect your joints, tone your muscles, repair your heart and lung health, increase your metabolic rate and so much more.
Light exercises during your recovery period post-surgery will also help make recovery easier and quicker. Keep in mind that you may still have mobility limitations after surgery and won't be able to do all types of exercises right away. Start slow, focus on setting realistic goals, and build up to an exercise routine with which you feel comfortable.
Best Exercises After Weight Loss Surgery
So, where should you start?
Whenever you begin an exercise routine, it's best to start slow. This is even more important if you're recovering from any major surgery. There are plenty of effective exercises that don't include high-intensity training, jumping or too much effort for your body to sustain.
The best exercise routine is one that you can keep up with. You should aim for 150 minutes of exercise, no matter how light, per week (though you can start with 15-20 minutes per day, four times per week).
It's important to incorporate both strength and cardio exercises, as well as flexibility training, which will strengthen and tone your body. Here are a few of the best exercises to start with:
Yoga offers many health benefits, both mental and physical, and is very easy to start, no matter your fitness level. Whether you are pre- or post-bariatric surgery, starting to practice yoga can play an important role in your weight loss journey.
There are so many types of yoga, so it is a great introduction to exercise. It's light enough for beginners or people who have issues with mobility, but it still helps with toning muscles, flexibility and developing good breathing habits that can help with other exercises.
If you're new to yoga, we suggest starting with a slow-paced style like yin yoga, which focuses on slow movements and stretching. Chair yoga is also a great place to start. This form of yoga allows you to perform movements from a seated or standing position using the chair for aid. When you're comfortable and ready to progress, you can move into yang yoga which includes the ever-popular vinyasa flows.
Yoga is a great way to start your mornings to get your blood flowing,, and you can do this exercise during recovery, as long as you know your limits.
When you want something that's restorative and good for toning, but you aren't ready for high-impact exercise yet, Pilates is the perfect solution.
Although Pilates has been around for over 100 years, it continues to grow in popularity. It has some similarities to yoga with floor work, flowing movements and controlled breathing, but it includes more strengthening exercises focused on muscle tone.
Pilates is a full-body workout, but you can do targeted practice as well. Many Pilates videos are available online and they break down exercises for legs, glutes, arms and core, so you can focus your efforts and rest certain muscles while working on others.
While Pilates is low impact, it can still leave you feeling sore the next day! However, it won't cause harm after your surgery.
While yoga and Pilates are great, they won't do much for your cardiovascular health. Getting back into cardio can be hard after weight loss surgery, especially if you have knee trouble due to previous weight.
Cycling, either indoors or outdoors, is a great way to get exercise without putting too much strain on your knees.
Try starting out indoors on a recumbent bike. This style of bike allows you to cycle in a more comfortable, reclined position, providing additional support for your upper body, with less stress on your joints. Put on your favorite music or podcast and start at low resistance to get used to the movements.
Once you’re stronger, more confident in your ability and have seen a reduction in weight, why not get a bike and start riding outside? Getting outside to exercise offers additional health benefits aside from toning and cardiovascular health, and you may feel more engaged.
Walks and Jogs
When you start to exercise after bariatric weight loss surgery, you want to start slow. Cycling and Pilates may even be too much at first—and that's ok.
Go for a walk. Start by strolling around your living room, dining room or kitchen. If you want to get outdoors, take a walk down the driveway and back. You can gradually work your way up to longer walks down the street or around your neighborhood.
As you build up your endurance, try alternating between fast and slow bursts of walking. Set goals throughout your walk—start walking briskly toward the next mailbox, then slow down to the streetlight, then pick the pace back up to the car down the street, then go slow to the corner.
For most people who are actively pursuing a workout routine, walking is a gateway to jogging. As long as your knees are ok, start introducing short bursts of jogging into your walks as you feel comfortable. Don't push yourself and feel free to return to your walk.
Over time, your walks and jogs will get longer, and your body will get stronger. Walking and jogging are great ways to keep weight off and stimulate endorphins—you may even discover that it helps de-stress.
If jogging is too hard on your knees or you don't feel engaged enough to continue, swimming is an amazing alternative. Many people underestimate the health benefits of swimming, as it burns a ton of calories without putting too much stress on your body.
Even the action of treading water and keeping yourself afloat will strengthen your body. It's one of the best exercises before and after weight loss surgery and even during surgery recovery.
Not an avid swimmer? That’s ok—try taking a water exercise class or an arthritis exercise class. These types of low-impact classes consist of light to moderate aerobic movements, stretching and toning in the shallow end of a pool where you can stand comfortably.
At UC Health, we offer aquatic exercise programs at the Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Care. This program is led by a certified instructor and is open to the community. You choose from individual classes or an eight-week group class. For more information, please call 513-418-2727.
Many people find swimming fun, which makes it an even better exercise. The best exercise is the one that you enjoy and can keep doing. If playing in the pool is fun for you, it's a perfect exercise option.
Full-Body Weight Training
As you recover and start reaching for your fitness goals, weight training is a necessary step. Many people make the mistake of thinking that cardio is the only way to keep weight off, but in reality, while cardio is important, strength training will tone your body, improve your posture and help you burn more calories.
Weight training does not mean you need to be lifting tons of weight right out of the gate. Just like all exercises, it’s important to begin slow. Try starting with your body weight if you don't have weights at home. Many weighted exercises can also be done in a seated position. As you progress, you could buy a few sets of light dumbbells or visit your local gym.
You can also try adding resistance bands to your exercises. Resistance bands challenge your muscles differently than free weights, but still offer the same benefits, like enhanced muscular strength and physical endurance.
Here are a few exercises for each muscle group to get you started.
For your upper body, consider a routine that includes:
- Light curls
- Chest presses
- Modified pushups
- Chest flies
- Overhead triceps extensions
- Lateral and frontal raises
For your lower body, consider:
- Forward, lateral and reverse lunges
- Calf raises
- Glute bridges
- Jumping jacks
As you progress, you'll find that some exercises are better for your body than others. You can also start incorporating heavier weighted exercises, such as deadlifts, but make sure that you practice your form before adding heavy weights to avoid injury.
How Soon Is Too Soon?
This question depends on how fit you were prior to surgery. Every journey is going to be different, but all post-surgical patients will be required to walk, or at least march in place, immediately after surgery to help reduce the chance of blood clots.
The rest is up to you and your comfort. If you feel good—don’t wait. Start to move, stretch and strengthen. Listen to your body and if anything is uncomfortable, stop, wait a few days and try again.
After your weight loss surgery, exercise might feel impossible. While it can be challenging, post-surgical exercise will help aid in your recovery and keep your body healthy and strong.
Exercise isn't just for weight loss—it will help keep weight off. Continue to focus on building strength and make sure you are fueling your body with the right kind of nutrients for long-term success.
When you're feeling unsure, the UC Health Weight Loss Center team is here for support. We are ready to help you reach your goals, so give us a call at 513-939-2263.