I am one week out of surgery. If it wasn’t for the exercises, I would of had a much harder time. I had plenty of strength right after surgery. I am strong in places I didn’t realized would be. The exercises before surgery help me so much with getting up and doing other things in these early stages of recovery.
This is a patient, who was a regular exerciser when younger, had a major back injury from a work related accident struggled put that on hold for a long time. Living with pain for many years had taken its toll on him not only physically, but mentally too.
When he committed to having surgery, he committed to regular exercise. He purchased exercise bands so he could exercise at home. He started walking short walks, listening to his body and not pushing through pain. He added small stretching breaks to his day to keep his body feeling as good as possible each day.
Motivation was also an issue. The gym used to be motivating but now it was a stark reminder of how far he had come from his younger more fit self. It made him feel worse and that led to put off going. He knew he needed to move more but was afraid of making things worse and struggling with motivating to get started. Doing a little at a time, at home where he felt comfortable helped him get out of the overwhelming state of thinking about how far he was from his goal. Instead he focused on what he could do to feel his best each day. He also committed to regular exercise visits every few weeks to ensure he was staying on track.
This is the struggle for most people who are trying to lose a large amount of weight. You know you need to exercise but your body is limited. You cannot just jump back into what you used to do or what everyone else is doing. You are in a unique situation and need exercises that are meant for the state of your body and your mind right now. This is why we need exercise programs that are specifically for people who are preparing for weight loss surgery.
The problem is, the area of prehabilitation before weight loss surgery has very few studies and most bariatric surgery programs do not include professional clinical exercise guidance as part of the preparation.
The current research shows that exercising before weight loss surgery provides the benefits that make surgery and recovery easier for your body and improves your chances of success with weight loss surgery. The key is, only exercise can provide all these benefits.
One of the most important benefits unique to exercise is the improvements in muscle strength and the prevention of muscle and metabolism loss with weight loss. Muscle loss is one of the down sides of weight loss surgery. Rapid weight loss has been shown to lead to loss of muscle mass, which is one of the largest parts of your metabolism. In one study, people who didn’t exercise after surgery, 22% of their weight loss was muscle. No wonder it is so difficult to keep weight off! But studies show those who exercise greatly slow or even prevent this loss during weight loss.
The common thought is that people who are carrying extra weight tend to have more muscle mass, and this is true but they tend to have lower muscle strength. This is like having a really cool sportscar in your driveway but not being able to use it. Strength and muscle mass don’t go hand in hand because strength is the function of muscles. That depends on how you use them. Exercise, specifically strength training, tells your muscles how to function well and be strong. Only exercise can do this for you. Since functioning better in daily life is one of the main reasons for weight loss surgery, exercise is an essential part of success.
Studies support other benefits of exercising before weight loss surgery is:
- better blood pressure control
- better blood sugar control
- decrease of inflammation
- improvement of cardiovascular function (Ie; less shortness of breath, lower risk of heart attack, more energy)
If you want to lose weight to be healthy, isn’t it nice to know you can be healthier while losing weight!
Fitness is a measure of your function in daily life. The image above shows that people represented by the grey line, who didn’t exercise before or after surgery don’t improve their fitness levels after weight loss surgery. Having weight loss surgery is too much work to miss out on this key benefit of weight loss!
As shown in the top two lines in the chart, people who exercise improve fitness and thus are probably enjoying the most success from weight loss surgery. Notice though, the people who do best are the ones represented in the blue line. They are the ones who exercise before and after weight loss surgery.
Exercising before weight loss surgery is one of the best ways to prepare for surgery and up your odds of success after weight loss surgery. Exercising prepares your body by giving it the strength and stamina it needs for surgery and recovery. You are also preparing your mind for making exercise part of your lifestyle, so you stay strong and function better with every pound lost. If you feel stuck, unable to exercise, know that the problem is not your mind or your body. You simply need exercise that is specifically for you, someone who is preparing for weight loss surgery. When exercise addresses the unique needs of someone preparing for weight loss surgery, those physical and emotional struggles with exercise are much less.
Hopefully in the future more research will provide the incentive for more bariatric programs to make exercise a part of their program. UMass Memorial Weight Center is unique in their commitment to including clinical exercise support and guidance as part of the preparation for surgery and success after surgery. If you are preparing for weight loss surgery, make the commitment to include exercise as part of that preparation, seek guidance and support from professionals who understand your unique needs, and give yourself the best chance for success before and after surgery.
Keep Moving, Be Well,