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Your First Days Back at the Gym After Bariatric Surgery

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Once you’ve had bariatric surgery, you should be proud of your incredible step toward renewed life and health. It’s often said that deciding to have surgery is one of the most challenging parts of the whole process. To some degree, that’s true – most often, the surgery is pretty smooth. However, one starts to encounter an entirely new set of problems, often psychological, after one’s surgical procedure. Most of these problems revolve around the challenges of losing weight and the lifestyle changes patients must make, particularly in diet and exercise.

With diet, of course, you have a little bit of help. For one, much of your diet will be prescribed with definitive items you can and cannot eat. With thousands of bariatric cases under our belts, we can offer concrete guidance and help our patients through the various phases of the postoperative lifestyle. Bariatric procedures, such as the gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, and duodenal switch, offer mechanical or hormonal assistance with hunger. Most of these procedures don’t allow you to overeat without feeling rough. Soon, your body and mind adapt, and you start eating the portions you should. In the case of the gastric sleeve, a hormonal component of removing part of the stomach from the abdomen also reduces hunger pangs. This is also a benefit of the duodenal switch. Gastric bypass patients have a built-in feedback mechanism known as dumping syndrome, which makes it very clear when they’ve eaten the wrong thing or even too much of a good thing.

Exercise Is Less Straightforward

On the other hand, exercise is quite different. Your postoperative packet will specify how much exercise you should do. Plenty of cardio and strength training will be needed to ensure maximum weight loss and continued health. However, it’s entirely up to you to get up, go to the gym and work out. There’s no part of the surgery that motivates you to do so other than feeling great – it’s up to you.

Some hurdles actively work against you.

  • What will people at the gym think?
  • I have no strength.
  • I’m losing plenty of weight without exercise.
  • What if I get injured?

These thoughts and self-doubts can prevent you from performing some of the most critical activities in the bariatric process.

On the First Day at the Gym

How we start our exercise process makes a big difference in the success we see. The long-term success of our exercise regimen largely depends on several factors, most of which start immediately.

  • First, it’s essential to have the proper expectations. When you go to the gym, you should not expect to see immediate results. The feelings you derive from exercise or a different story, however. For most, the gym offers excellent psychological and physical well-being. Exercise releases dopamine, amongst other benefits, and can reduce stress. It can also increase energy despite expending energy during the exercise itself. Many patients will leave the gym with increased interest in continuing their exercise program. That said, these feelings don’t come with visible effects – at least not right away. You will not see your biceps bulging, even if they feel sore and well worked out.
  • It’s also essential to prepare yourself for the long haul. Exercise can be likened to building a skyscraper, one brick at a time. It requires dedication, consistency, and patience. These are three critical components of a good exercise program because, without them, you run a high risk of quitting when you don’t see results. You will also find that pushing too hard too soon will cause injury and set you back. Knee back or neck injuries, which are familiar with new exercise programs. It can set you back weeks or even months.
  • It starts with proper form and continues it. If you previously went to the gym and know proper form, congratulations! However, most of us need help understanding the basic ideas of how our bodies and muscles work. You can speak to an exercise physiologist, physical therapist, or certified trainer to understand what activities you should be doing and how you should be doing them. While this may be a financial investment, it’s also an investment in your future, allowing you to avoid wasting time and effort on exercises and techniques that don’t work.
  • Stop if it hurts. This is true for any exercise at any time, regardless of bariatric surgery, but it is especially true for those who have just been cleared to exercise more. Don’t try to work through any pain or consider the pain normal. Pain means something is wrong, and you must stop immediately to avoid further damage. If you have an exercise physiologist or trusted trainer to speak to, tell them what you’ve experienced. You may also wish to bring it up at your next appointment with your bariatric office. Most importantly, give yourself plenty of time to recover. You can still go to the gym. Just don’t use the muscles that you may have injured.
  • Don’t forget about hydration. You’ve likely been told that you need to consume about 64 oz of water each day. This is simply a starting point; you would probably need far more water daily, especially if you are working out. Speak to your dietitian about the best times to work out, how much water you should drink, and the signs of dehydration. Remember that even a one or two-percent deficit in hydration can cause significant physical and psychological dysregulation. If you feel thirsty, you are dehydrated, so be proactive with your drinking. Also, be careful with the no-calorie sweeteners, which can cause you to crave more sweets in the future and has even been linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Plain water, water with an electrolyte additive, or other low-sugar options like coconut water are often excellent.
  • Lastly, however, certainly not least, don’t worry about what other people think at the gym. For one, most people there have little or no interest in others working out. They are typically there for themselves and want to maximize their workout. What you do is not a significant consequence. However, you should also recognize that everybody must start somewhere. When someone is changing their lives for the better, and not just as a fad or New Year’s resolution, most look upon that with appreciation and admiration rather than scorn.

We always want to hear about your challenges and successes and wish you and our patients the best of luck with a new gym routine. We also know starting can be tricky, so we encourage you to discuss it. This is not something to keep to yourself as it is an integral part of the success of your bariatric procedure.