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Exercising After Weight Loss Surgery

Exercising after bariatric surgery is a crucial part of short-term and long-term recovery. When you are in the hospital, the nursing staff will get you up and walking very shortly after you wake up in the recovery room. This is both to increase circulation to reduce the chance of infection, but also to minimize the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or blood clots in the extremities. Once you are discharged, this exercise program will need to continue and expand at home. In the beginning, you will not be able to lift much (doctor’s orders), nor will you be able to walk too far. However, we encourage pushing yourself day after day to take a few extra steps up to your physical limits and without, of course, feeling pain.

Once you’re fully recovered, which will be about 4 to 6 weeks after surgery, and Dr. Tsuda or Dr. Ryan has cleared you to perform normal activity, we will expect you to do plenty of cardio as well as strength training each week. Ideally, we want you to get your heart rate up for at least half an hour a day, 3 to 4 times a week. You can do this by swimming, biking, walking, or weightlifting. We also want you to incorporate weightlifting into your exercise routine as this builds muscle and gives you a calorie-burning boost even while at rest.

What we most definitely don’t want you to do is perform high-impact exercises early on in the weight loss process. Excess weight can damage your joints, especially the knees and high-impact exercise will only worsen that. As you begin to lose weight, high-impact exercises will have less of an effect on your joints, but even then, we want you to limit them. The worst offender is running on concrete, which can be very hard on your ankles and knees.

You will find that exercise also tones your body within the first few weeks of getting started. However, you may notice that your weight is not going down. If you are doing quite a bit of strength training, you may see the scale creep up. Don’t panic – it’s completely normal. Muscle is denser than fat and as you build muscle and shrink your fat cells, you will gain weight temporarily. Keep up the exercise and you will notice that within a couple weeks, the number will start going down again. In the meantime, don’t just fixate on the scale, take notice of how your body shape is changing for the better.

We also want to strongly caution you against progressing too fast, or too soon. There is a distinct human desire to build upon success. When we see the scale going down and our bodies looking much better, we want to push even harder to accelerate the results. However, when it comes to exercise, there is a significant risk of overuse injury or worse that can sideline you for weeks, even months. As a result, we want you to work slowly toward your goal. Yes, it may take a few extra weeks, but it will be well worth it in the form of an injury free lifestyle.

You also want to ensure the correct technique when working out. This may require going to a running store, having a swimming lesson, or working with a personal trainer to ensure that you are not doing anything that might degrade or injure your muscles and joints.

Of particular note, if you enjoy swimming and choose it as your primary exercise, remember that it is easy to overeat afterward. Water lowers your body temperature and your body’s first reaction is to eat food to regain its normal temperature level. You need to resist that by having a big glass of room temperature water after you swim and waiting at least an hour or two before eating.

When we are asked whether dieting or exercising should be the primary strategy for weight loss, it comes down to short-term versus long-term considerations. You will lose more weight quickly with a restricted diet; however, exercise is critical to improving your muscle tone, body shape, and muscle mass, which ultimately provides greater long-term calorie burning potential, even at rest. So, both diet and exercise are critical components of your post bariatric lifestyle.