Bariatric-Friendly Exercise Programs: How to Get Moving After Surgery

Bariatric-Friendly Exercise Programs: How to Get Moving After Surgery

Alex Brecher

What you eat may be top of mind for most bariatric surgery patients, but exercise is another pillar of success. Whether or not you are an experienced exerciser, getting moving is a good idea as soon as your surgeon or other provider gives the go-ahead. If you have not exercised before, just start slow and follow your provider’s guidelines. Here are some general tips for how to get moving after surgery.

Why Exercise After Bariatric Surgery?

First, let’s shore up motivation! You may already know the reasons behind eating right after weight loss surgery, but do you know why exercise is so important? Here are some benefits of exercising after bariatric surgery.

  • It can help with weight loss by burning calories and maintaining lean muscle mass, which burns calories all day.
  • It can boost your mood and confidence, helping you make better eating choices all day.
  • It can increase your functional abilities, making daily tasks easier for you to complete, by increasing endurance, boosting strength, and increasing range of motion.
  • It can improve metabolic health, such as lowering blood sugar and blood pressure, and reducing risk for heart disease.

When you are ready to look better and feel better, turn to exercise

Getting Started: Light Walking, Cycling, or Pool Exercises

As long as you do not have an interfering condition, your surgeon may suggest that you start walking as soon as you can after your bariatric surgery procedure. It may feel tempting to stay in bed in the hospital, but try to get a nurse or physical therapist to help you walk. Then walk on your own as soon as you get permission, and keep it up when you get home. Walk as much as possible.

These are some reasons why walking is a good starting exercise for most people.

  • It is natural. You already know how to do it.
  • It is helpful for your daily life, whether walking around the home to do chores, or walking across the parking lot and around the supermarket.
  • It is the most accessible choice for most people, since you can walk anywhere (or use a treadmill) and all you need is a pair of shoes.

Some people may want to start with stationary cycling, or add it as soon as possible. Recumbent cycles have no impact, so they are easy on the joints. Since you are sitting down and leaning back against the seat back, you do not need to be able to support your own weight. 

The pool is another option for people who have trouble supporting their body weight. It is easy on the joints as well, and you can exercise your legs, arms, and core without strain. Of course, not everyone has access to a pool.

A Few Months Later

When you can, and your surgeon gives the okay, you can progress in your exercise program. You can increase the length of your workouts; while you may have started with a minute or two at a time, you can increase to 5, 10, 30, or even 60 minutes on most days.

You can also increase the intensity. A progression may be from slow walking to brisk walking, and even to uphill walking or hiking. You may eventually even add some jogging to your routine. Similarly, you can pedal faster or add resistance on a stationary bike, and switch to an upright bike when you’re ready to burn more calories and get your heart rate up a bit more.

It is not safe to lift heavy weights immediately after surgery, but you may be able to start resistance, or strength, training within a few weeks. Weights at the gym can help, but there are ways to exercise at home. Dumbbells, resistance bands, and a kettlebell can all give you a good workout. 

You can even strengthen your muscles without any equipment. These are some examples of body weight exercises. Just look them up to see how to do them, and be sure to ask an expert about proper form.

  • Crunches to work your abs.
  • Planks (start on knees if needed) to work your core.
  • Squats, lunges, and dips to work your legs.
  • Arm raises to work your shoulders.
  • Wall push-ups, with progression to floor push-ups on your knees.
  • Side (lateral) leg lifts to work your hips.
  • Calf raises to work your lower legs.
  • Tricep dips on a couch behind you to work the back of your arms,
  • Stomach snow angels and Superman to work your back.

Eventually, adding yoga and stretching can help improve flexibility and prevent injuries. A warm-up and cool-down are also good for reducing injury risk and increasing safety during your workouts.

Exercise Goals and Tips for Reaching Them

For most people, the exercise goal for health is to do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, plus resistance training. For weight maintenance, the goal is to do at least an hour a day. At least, that’s what research on people with successful long-term weight loss shows.

These tips can help you reach your activity goals.

  • Schedule your workouts so you have time to do them.
  • Find activities you enjoy, even if it takes several tries.
  • Try new activities and set new goals to prevent boredom.
  • Get a friend to work out with you.
  • Take advantage of group fitness classes or a personal trainer for inspiration and ideas and challenges.
  • Track your activity to stay motivated.

Exercise Restrictions After Bariatric Surgery

Some people have exercise restrictions. It is never a good idea to ignore them. If you have diabetes, for example, you may not be able to do high-impact exercises. Or, if you have not exercised in a while, your healthcare provider may suggest keeping the intensity low until you are more fit. Just talk to your doctor before starting a new program.

Exercise after weight loss surgery can help speed weight loss, improve physical and mental health, and improve your quality of life and ability to function. Most patients should get moving as soon as possible after surgery, if they haven’t already started exercising beforehand, and you can likely progress quickly if you are dedicated and your healthcare team has no concerns. Starting with walking and adding in other activities, while taking steps to prevent injuries and make exercise a habit, can help you get fit as you lose weight. 

Post op exercise