If your plans for having weight loss surgery, or another surgery, have been put on hold until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control, it may seem like your life is on hold. Let’s flip that script to see the opportunity this time presents.
When you have surgery, even though you are laying still during the operation and when you recover, your body is working hard to keep you well. For that reason, the practice of prehabilitation has gained popularity. Improving strength and stamina before surgery has been shown to reduce the risks of surgery and improve recovery after surgery.
The number one fact to know about your body is that it gets used to what you give it. Everyday your body gets signals to either grow stronger or weaker, increase or decrease inflammation, lose bone cells or build new ones, build muscle or let it go, (and so on, and so on). When you move in the specific ways that tell it to stay strong and healthy, your cells will do all they can to work together and keep you strong and healthy.
What is in your control right now is what you tell your body about how prepared you want to be for surgery. As difficult as it may seem to be waiting in a body that does not feel the way you want it to feel, you have been given more time to prepare it for surgery. This is a tremendous opportunity to improve or maintain your strength and stamina so your body has the best chance to handle surgery well and recover well.
Both strength and stamina are equally important but use different types of movement:
Strength: The amount of muscle mass you have is directly related to your health, metabolism, longevity and success with surgery. Aging and weight loss, as well as other medical conditions and medications, lower muscle mass. Strength training (AKA weight lifting or resistance training) is the best kind of exercise to help preserve your muscle mass. Cardiovascular and stretching are not designed to do this near as well as strength training. Simpy put, strength training uses more muscle fibers. Remember that “use it to keep it” rule? The muscle fibers you don’t use go into a sort of ‘hibernation’. The ones you use stay active and ready to help you move well. Strength training does not mean you have to lift heavy weights or go to a gym and you definitely do not need to be sore. Learn simple strength exercises that challenge the functional movements of your body and do that every other day and you are on your way to stay strong for surgery.
Stamina: Surgery is about four times more work for your cardiovascular system than it is to be sitting and resting. Cardiovascular exercise is the type that strengthens this system, so surgery is not as much work. Just as a marathon runner who is well trained feels better after running 26 miles than someone who did not train, preparing your cardiovascular system through regular cardiovascular exercise increases the chance the whole experience will be easier for your body. Fortunately, you do not need to do the training of a marathoner to be ready for surgery. Simply moving as much of your body as possible continuously at a moderate intensity for your breathing for 5 min several times a day up to 30 min several times a week is enough to build stamina.
If you are a UMassMemorial Weight Center patient, we are doing tele-visits and have free online courses with exercises you can do. We are here to help you figure out how to keep moving while you wait. Feel free to email me with any questions at Janet.Huehls@Umassmemorial.org
Keep Moving and Stay Well,