The Importance of both Pre- and Post-Surgery Physical Activity

May 14, 2019
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Physical activity is akin to a bad word in the world of weight loss. Everyone is always looking for a quick solution to weight loss; you know, the one that doesn’t involve changing their eating behaviors or getting off the couch. Right? Wrong. But why? Why is physical activity so important? And, since you’ve taken the awesome step towards better health, why is it so important to begin and continue physical activity before and after your surgery? Well, let’s take a walk and find out.

Developing the habit of daily physical activity is a hard habit to start. Putting into place a system that has become habit before surgery will increase the likelihood that you will “jump” right back into the habit to help improve surgery outcomes. Plan to start this about 6 – 12 months before your surgery. When it comes to physical activity recommendations, use the following as a guidance, along with anything your doctor recommends:

  • Start slow and gradually increase timing over time. Aim for 50 – 60 minutes per day, 6 days a week, as a long term-goal.
  • Start with simple things like increasing activity around the home: wash dishes by hand, park further away, try to use the stairs etc.
  • Duration over intensity of exercise is more important.
  • If you’re BMI is in excess of 35 limit any exercises that cause joint pain; joint pain of any kind is never healthy and may require a modification to an exercise.
  • Walking is an easy, low impact way to start getting your body moving.
  • Consider doing strength training-type exercises at least 2 – 3 days a week with light to medium weights, or a form of resistance bands.
  • Change your exercise program every few weeks to keep your body in an active state. Stagnancy in any part of your weight loss routine ultimately leads to plateaus in weight loss.  

Pre-Surgical Importance

According to the National Weight Control Registry we know that 94% of participants increased their physical activity, with walking being the most frequently reported form of activity. Here are seven reasons to start an exercise program before surgery:

  1. Facilitate weight loss and increased insulin utilization
  2. Develops a healthy habit that’s important for both weight loss and weight maintenance
  3. Improve blood lipid profile (i.e. cholesterol)
  4. Decrease blood pressure
  5. Improve surgery outcome
  6. Promote better mood and general feelings of wellness
  7. Improve sleep

Post-Surgical Importance

It’s important that you resume your physical activity as quickly as possible after your surgery. Most people can safely assume this between 2 and 3 weeks after surgery. Ultimately, the goal post-surgery is to take things one step at a time.

First 3 – 6 months

  • o   Focus on walking, using a recumbent bike or even swimming.
  • o   If you haven’t started one, start a resistance training routine to help build up lean body mass and increase your metabolism.
  • o   Aim for 30 minutes of consistent exercise for 3 – 4 days, and work your way up to 45 minutes during this time.

6 – 12 months

  • o   Vary your format of exercise: try adding in yoga, kick boxing or a dance fitness program.
  • o   Aim for exercise 5 – 6 days per week with a goal of 45 – 60 minutes of continuous exercise.
  • o   Be adventurous! If the weather is nice try going outside and taking a hike.

One Year and Beyond

Once you’ve reached the one year mark things can get very challenging. You’ve likely lost between 80 – 100 lbs and you’re feeling great! And you should be…but it’s during this time where we can let old habits creep back in. Be sure that during this time you are prioritizing your health and exercise. Clinically speaking, exercise is one of the greatest predictors of long-term weight loss maintenance. In other words: the more your exercise the more likely you are to keep the weight off for the long term.

Notice: before starting any new activity or exercise program please be sure to speak with your surgeon or presiding physician. If you need assistance in beginning a program you can find certified personal trainers through sites like, and