Why Should You Exercise After Bariatric Surgery?
Bariatric surgery is a powerful weight-loss tool, but it’s not a miracle cure. To have the best life after bariatric surgery, you’ll need to commit to a healthy diet and a consistent bariatric exercise regime so you can maximize your weight loss and feel better than ever.
The good news is that exercising after weight loss surgery comes with a lot of benefits.
Bariatric Exercise Benefit #1: The Right Kind of Weight Loss
Exercise can help you lose more weight and keep it off after surgery. A study of gastric bypass patients showed that those who exercised lost at least 10-15 pounds more than those who did not.
But when you’re losing weight, it’s also important to lose the right kind of weight. Exercise helps you burn fat while keeping your lean muscle.
Christopher Still, director of the Geisinger Obesity Institute, talks about why exercise after weight loss surgery is so important.
“When we lose weight rapidly, we lose muscle,” Dr. Still says. “Exercise is a safe and effective way of maintaining lean body mass, which maintains metabolism and will facilitate [healthy] weight loss.”
When you lose weight, your body will naturally eliminate both fat and muscle. It’s important to exercise after bariatric surgery so you can preserve your lean muscle. That way, you’ll keep enough muscle to stay healthy.
Exercise Benefit #2: Helps You Feel Amazing
Exercise can also help you have more energy and feel better. Many of our patients say they don’t just want to lose weight; they want to be able to hike, or run 5ks, or play with their grandchildren. If that’s your goal, exercising regularly after weight loss surgery can help you get there.
Regular exercise can strengthen your heart and bones, improve your blood sugar, enhance your immune system so you’re less likely to get sick, and make it easier to do everyday activities like shopping. There is also evidence that exercise can enhance your mental function and health. In his book Spark, John Ratey, MD describes the impact that exercise has on increasing academic performance and mental function, and on resolving depression and anxiety.
Exercise Benefit #3: Mental Health
Exercise produces endorphins that help you combat anxiety and depression. The time after your surgery can be tough for many patients. Lots of people look down on you if you suffer from obesity, and that can leave emotional scars. Some people feel alone after surgery, because so many Americans think (wrongly) that bariatric surgery is the “easy way out.”
At the BMCC we have strong support groups to help you handle your emotions after surgery, and many of our patients report that these support groups feel like a second family. But exercise can also help you feel better. Exercising after bariatric surgery can help you deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. Exercise creates more blood flow to the brain, breaks the brain’s downward spirals into depression and anxiety, and produces endorphins that help to regulate and improve your mood.
How Should I Exercise After Bariatric Surgery?
After surgery, there are three key areas you should focus on when it comes to exercise.
- Strength training
Let’s go through each of these together.
Cardio: Burning Calories and Giving You More Energy
Regular cardio exercise has a lot of benefits. It can give you more energy and help you sleep better. Our bodies are made to move, and getting your blood pumping in a good way can boost your metabolism and energy levels. It can also help you work through anxiety and sleep better.
Cardio also produces endorphins, which can increase your confidence. It strengthens your heart and lungs, increases bone density (which is important to ward off arthritis), and also boosts your mental sharpness and ability to focus.
What are some great cardio bariatric exercises? Early after surgery, walking is recommended as it decreases complications and improves your recovery. Eventually, water workouts and swimming can be very good low impact options. Running or hiking a beautiful Colorado trail are very invigorating outdoor options.
Here’s a breakdown of how many calories you’ll burn for some typical bariatric workouts:
Strength Training: Keeping Your Lean Muscle Mass
Strength training is important to help you maintain your lean muscle mass. It also helps keep your bones strong.
When it comes to strength training, it’s important to start slow. Start with 1-5 pound weights, and then increase weight once you can do 3 sets of 15-20 reps. If you feel sharp pain, don’t try to push through it; stop and try a different exercise.
Lunges, squats, and lifting weights are all great bariatric exercises for strength training.
Flexibility: Preventing Injuries
Flexibility training is important to help you avoid injuring yourself. If you feel sore or tight after your bariatric workout, flexibility training can help. It can also help you avoid straining yourself when you’re running or lifting weights.
When you’re stretching, it’s important to be careful. Take each stretch slowly and hold it for ten seconds–don’t bounce up and down. Go far enough that you feel a burn, but pull back if you feel sharp pain.
What’s a great flexibility workout? Stretching.
Warmups and Cooldowns: Vital for Exercise After Bariatric Surgery
It’s important to warmup before each bariatric workout, and to cooldown after. Warming up helps get your blood flowing and your heart pumping, and loosens your muscles. This can help you get the most out of your workout, and also prevents injuries.
You should warm up for 5-10 minutes by doing light stretching, light jogging or walking, or jumping jacks. Make sure to keep it easy, rather than push yourself.
After your bariatric workout, you should spend 5-10 minutes cooling down. Cooling down will slowly bring down your heart rate and breathing, which will prevent dizziness. Cooling down also lets your body get rid of the lactic acid that it creates during a tough workout, which can be bad for your muscles.
What are some good bariatric cooldown exercises? Walking and stretching. Aim to slowly take your heart rate back down from exercise pace to resting pace.
My Exercise Schedule After Bariatric Surgery
When should you start exercising after weight loss surgery, and how far should you push yourself? This schedule should help you.
Right After Surgery: Take It Slow
It’s important to start gentle, slow walks the day after surgery. Remember: your body is still recovering, so it’s important to listen to your body and your medical team. Don’t walk for more than 15 minutes at a time.
After your initial appointment at the BMCC, you’ll meet with our exercise physiologists to assess your barriers to activity and develop an individualized, safe plan to regain activity without causing further damage to your back, joints, and the rest of your body. After surgery, you will start off walking around 20 minutes per day and gradually progress over the next 6-8 weeks toward your custom fitness goals, which will include cardio and resistance. However, you should generally avoid anything harder than walking until 6 weeks after surgery.
2-4 Weeks After Weight Loss Surgery: Light Exercise
Now that your body’s healing, you can start low-impact bariatric exercises. Leg lifts, hamstring stretches, shoulder rolls, and arm rotations can be great ways to build strength and flexibility. You can also start going on longer walks, or walking more quickly.
Exercising 1-2 Months After Weight Loss Surgery: Cardio
As your body continues to heal and strengthen, it’s important to build to moderate cardio workouts. Cycling and water workouts are both great exercises after bariatric surgery that are easier on your joints than running. You should start aiming to work out 5 days a week, for 30 minutes per day and build from there.
At any point if you experience chest pain or tightness while exercising it is important to stop immediately and call a doctor.
It’s still important to listen to your body. When you’re doing cardio, don’t sprint; you should be able to talk comfortably while working out. But, if you can sing while you’re doing any bariatric exercise, you may not be pushing yourself hard enough.
Exercising 6 Weeks After Weight Loss Surgery: Strength Training
At this point, it’s important to start adding strength training to your workout routine at least 2 days per week.
Squats and lunges are great bariatric exercises. So is lifting weights. Bear in mind, it’s important to only go until you feel a burn. Stop if you feel sharp pain.
At this point, you should be doing cardio training regularly 5 days a week, between half an hour and an hour each time. Aim to add at least two of your strength training bariatric workouts per week. However, don’t target the same muscle groups back to back.
As you progress, you’ll need to keep pushing yourself physically. That’s because your body will adapt to exercises, so the same bariatric exercise won’t burn as many calories as it did three months ago.
Bariatric Surgery and Exercise Can Help You Lose Weight
You’ve probably tried exercise before. But after bariatric surgery, diet and exercise are much more effective at helping you lose weight, keep it off, and reclaim your health.
After bariatric surgery, you’ll work with our expert team every step of the way to make an exercise plan that’s right for you.
Losing weight is challenging and takes intentional commitment. But living with obesity is harder. With commitment and dedication, you can do this because you deserve the better life that is waiting for you. We believe in you and will be with you every step of the way.