The successful bariatric surgery patient regularly takes part in three main activities in their life after surgery:
Two of these are easier to adhere to…
If you don’t follow your diet plan, you will most likely get sick… ranging from trouble with digestion to vitamin deficiency. This risk keeps most patients in line regardless of their motivation.
Participating in weight loss surgery support groups is the next easiest thing to keep consistent. They’re interactive and fun, and if time is an issue there are great at-home options available in the form of online weight loss support.
Not surprisingly, exercise for bariatric surgery patients is often the component that slips. It can seem daunting, especially after a long day at work or an especially difficult week.
But you must make it a priority for two big reasons:
We’ll let the research do the talking…
So how does exercise contribute to weight loss?
Recent research suggests that your metabolic rate may not be as important as previously thought, especially when compared to an improved diet.
Regardless, good weight loss results and better overall health speak for themselves… a healthy diet combined with an appropriate exercise program equals long-term success.
As you probably know, it burns calories. But this is not the main reason it works. After all, if you weigh 275 pounds, you will burn 200 calories per mile walked at a pace of 5 mph. One cup of dried apples has over 200 calories, let alone your entire daily intake. Exercise will only directly burn a small portion of your daily calories.
The more important reason exercise for bariatric surgery patients works is by boosting your metabolism, which is especially important considering your body’s natural tendency to slow down your metabolism as you lose weight. A higher basal metabolic rate means that your body will automatically burn calories at a faster rate even while you are resting, thus leading to additional weight loss.
To determine exercise’s impact on weight loss surgery patients, one study divided 60 morbidly obese gastric bypass patients into two groups:
In addition to quicker weight loss, the multiple-exercise group had significantly earlier resolution or improvement of obesity health problems.4
In fact, exercise for bariatric surgery patients and obese individuals alike has been shown to improve a vast array of physical and mental issues, including:
Physical Improvements Caused By Exercise for Bariatric Surgery Patients
Mental Improvements Caused By Exercise for Bariatric Surgery Patients
When is Exercise for Bariatric Surgery Patients Safe?
Check with your surgeon to be sure, but exercise for bariatric surgery patients can generally begin within three to six weeks following surgery.
But you should begin walking for 20 to 30 minutes per day as soon as you get home. Start with a slow pace and gradually increase the speed at which you walk as your endurance improves.
At first, it’s probably best to spread this out over the day instead of doing it all at once. For example, try going for a 10 minute stroll in the morning, midday and in the evening.
By the time you reach six weeks post-op, you should be able to complete three 10 minute walks per day while walking at a relatively quick pace. After week six, it may be time to begin a more intensive exercise routine including strengthening, flexibility and more aggressive endurance exercises.
It’s normal! You may even feel more sore two days after exercising. The best way to reduce soreness is to get blood flowing to your muscles by moving and drinking plenty of water… sitting on the couch may only may it worse.
And remember… weight loss surgery patients should typically avoid NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or Aleve.
First, recognize that your ultimate goal is NOT to exercise like a young, lean person. Not only will this make your goals feel more achievable, but it’s simply not necessary.
This stance was confirmed by researchers studying the exercise habits of 100 people: 50 of normal weight who exercised regularly vs. 50 post-gastric bypass patients who achieved 80% or greater excess weight loss. They found that compared to the normal-weight group, the weight loss surgery group maintained a similar body mass index with less rigorous but equally consistent exercise.6
In short, you need to stick to a routine, but you don’t need to win Cross-Fit Trainee of the Year to achieve and maintain a normal BMI.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s set the foundation for safe and effective exercise for bariatric surgery patients:
Your cool down will bring your heart rate and breathing down slowly to prevent dizziness or fainting and to remove waste products from your muscles such as lactic acid. Cooling down may also help to prevent or reduce the severity of sore muscles.
Immediately following weight loss surgery (and until you are less than 50 pounds overweight), stay towards the lower end of your range and slowly work your way up as your fitness level progresses. There are two ways to track your heart rate while you exercise:
|Age||Target HR Zone
|Source: American Heart Association|
|20 years||100–170 beats per minute||200 beats per minute|
|25 years||98–166 beats per minute||195 beats per minute|
|30 years||95–162 beats per minute||190 beats per minute|
|35 years||93–157 beats per minute||185 beats per minute|
|40 years||90–153 beats per minute||180 beats per minute|
|45 years||88–149 beats per minute||175 beats per minute|
|50 years||85–145 beats per minute||170 beats per minute|
|55 years||83–140 beats per minute||165 beats per minute|
|60 years||80–136 beats per minute||160 beats per minute|
|65 years||78–132 beats per minute||155 beats per minute|
|70 years||75–128 beats per minute||150 beats per minute|
The AHA also suggests using a “conversational pace” to keep your heart rate within range in the absence of a monitor or knowledge of how to take your pulse. They advise that “if you can talk and walk at the same time, you aren’t working too hard”, but “if you can sing and maintain your level of effort, you’re probably not working hard enough”.
The Best Exercise for Bariatric Surgery Patients
The best exercise for bariatric surgery patients achieves a balance of three fitness keystones:
Endurance Exercise for Bariatric Surgery Patients
Walking should be the first exercise for bariatric surgery patients and is a perfect first step (no pun intended) towards a robust exercise routine.
Begin your walking plan by setting an initial daily goal. Then increase the goal by 10% each day that you walk.
A great way to go about this is to count your steps using a FitBit. Spread your walks throughout the day so you don’t get too tired… three 10 minute walks, for example.
At the end of the day, take a look at your pedometer and write down the number of steps you took. This will include both the steps taken during your planned walks and steps taken throughout your regular daily activities.
Next, multiply the total steps listed on your pedometer by 1.1 to determine your daily goal for the next day. Continue this process each day, making sure that your pedometer reads the new higher number (your ongoing new goals) at the end of each day.
After a few weeks, you’ll be well on your way to better shape and will be ready to take your endurance routine to the next level…
As the walking gets easier increase the difficulty of your daily steps. First, start taking the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible, or walk hills instead of flat ground if you have them in your area.
Next, consider moving on to marching (not jumping) on a mini trampoline. Mini trampolines provide great exercise for bariatric surgery patients for a few reasons: they give you a good indoor workout option when the weather won’t allow you to walk outside; they’re a better workout than walking on the ground; and they improve your balance and core strength… a perfect lead in to your endurance and strength exercises.
We like the 40-inch Foldable Exercise Trampoline (aff) from ActiveForever. It can support weight up to 300 pounds and can be ordered with an optional stabilizing bar – a huge help with balance for beginners.
It’s also extremely portable… it collapses to less than one-fourth of its open size and comes with a free carrying case.
As you progress, you can continue to increase the difficulty of your endurance training by riding a stationary bike at home or in the gym.
For a cheaper and more convenient alternative, consider using a pedal exerciser. As you would expect, it won’t give you nearly the workout that a full-sized bike will give you and they are much less stable, but their convenience and much lower price tags make up for it – especially for beginners.
Pedal exercisers also allow you to work out anywhere you can find a seat, including (for the time-strapped) your desk while working.
The Stamina InStride Cycle (aff) is the quietest and sturdiest of the ones we tried and is one of the most compact – a big deal if you’re working out at your desk and don’t want your knees to hit.
Another effective and inexpensive (and fun!) exercise for bariatric surgery patients is a hoola hoop. In addition to improving your endurance, it’s an excellent way to strengthen your core, arm and leg strength. Exercise by swinging the hoola hoop around your waist, arms and legs.
The last but certainly not least recommended exercise for bariatric surgery patients is swimming, especially while you are still overweight or obese. It contributes to endurance, strength and flexibility with minimal impact on the joints and works virtually every part of your body.
Flexibility Exercise for Bariatric Surgery Patients
The benefits of stretching and becoming more flexible cannot be overstated and are an essential part of your overall exercise plan. Try it just once, despite the burn… when you’re done, it’s difficult to deny the slight euphoria you feel. That “good feeling” only multiplies over time, and it leads to a better mental state and lower stress.
Just as importantly, flexibility exercise for bariatric surgery patients improves coordination, increases blood flow to your muscles resulting in less soreness and more energy and improves chronic problems such as lower back pain.
To stretch properly, you should go far enough to “feel the burn” but not so far that it hurts. Hold the stretch for at least 10 seconds while feeling the burn, breath deeply and consistently, and don’t bounce.
To get started, we highly recommend a beginner’s yoga class.
What’s wrong? Can’t get the image of a contortionist out of your brain? While the stereotype can make yoga seem intimidating, don’t let it dissuade you from giving it a shot. Beginner’s yoga will ease you into stretching and teach you all of the proper stretching techniques for each muscle in your body.
Yoga also goes a long way towards building strength. After all, holding those stretches takes muscle!
Strengthening Exercise for Bariatric Surgery Patients
Strengthening exercises are the third leg of your three-legged exercise routine and should be started only after your endurance and flexibility routines are well underway.
As mentioned above, good transitions into strengthening exercises include walking up and down hills or stairs, swimming, yoga and using a mini trampoline, stationary bike, pedal exerciser or hoola hoop.
We recommend three avenues to begin building strength:
The size you need depends on your height:
To use it, you simply grip the center of one or both of the blades with one or two hands and shake the blade(s) back and forth while doing one of many exercises.
It’s a very low impact exercise for bariatric surgery patients (good on the joints) and provides a solid whole-body workout. The following video will give you a better understanding of how it works…
The Bodyblade also comes with an instructional DVD to teach you the proper form and techniques for various body parts. It’s available online from ActiveForever.
In addition to using them on a dedicated basis (standing arm curls, for instance), you can also incorporate them into your other routines which is a great way to pack the most exercise into the least amount of time.
For example, start carrying one pound weights with you on your walks or start doing arm and shoulder exercises with them while you march on the trampoline or use the bike. Increase the weight you’re using when you’re able to do three sets of 15 or 20 repetitions.
Now that you know the equipment you need and have some good endurance, flexibility and strengthening exercise ideas, you’re ready to get started. Before you do, understand that regardless of how fired up you feel now, there will be times that exercising is the last thing you feel like doing.
But you must fight through it and stick to your routine no matter what! Following one or more suggestions in the next section will help…
8 Tips to Keep Your Weight Loss Surgery Exercise On Track
Everyone feels the urge to let their routine slip from time to time. The following will help keep you on track…
We strongly recommend using a good online tool such as FitDay (aff) that integrates both your diet and exercise activity and goals. They allow you to chart your progress and have calendars for planning your schedule.
A committed family member of friend is also a good idea with or without a trainer. You’ll be less likely to bail out of a scheduled workout if you know someone is counting on you to be there!
If you’re feeling self-conscious about attending a gym, there’s a good chance that there’s a female-only gym or personal training studio near you. Since they tend to be more expensive than a standard fitness center, call your local gym first, find out the time of the day when they’re the least busy, and head over during that time to check it out.
You may be surprised to find a relatively empty gym along with others working out who have a similar body type as yours.
Also consider picking up a good workout DVD to guide you… there are countless to choose from depending on your goals, style and fitness level.
References – Exercise for Bariatric Surgery Patients