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Best Types of Exercise After Bariatric Surgery

“When can I start exercising?” Bariatric patients ask that question frequently, both before their weight-loss surgery and after.

Physical movement is crucial to building a healthy lifestyle, especially the types of exertion that build muscle, burn calories or get your heart rate up. Being enthusiastic about exercise is an excellent sign you’re ready to do everything it takes to become a thinner, healthier person.

First, Wait a Month

Still, if you’ve had gastric bypass, duodenal switch or any other type of weight-loss surgery, your body needs time to heal before you hit the gym, pavement, court, pool or studio.

In most cases, you’ll need to wait four weeks. You can walk during that time, and that’s a great starter way to gain strength. But that’s all you’re allowed during the healing phase.

Once your surgeon’s office says it’s safe for you to exercise, you can start immediately with no restrictions. Listen to your body, of course. You need to build up your strength and stamina, but jumping into a sport or fitness routine too quickly is a sure way to set yourself up for injury. 

Three Main Types of Exercise After Weight-Loss Surgery

Exercise will benefit you in several ways, especially if you mix up the types of challenges you take on. It is important to remember that there are three types of exercise, and ideally you want to practice them all: aerobic training, balance training, and strength or resistance training.

  • Aerobic training. Running and cycling are examples of aerobic training. They’re exercises that get your heart rate up, which benefits your heart health. Since many bariatric patients suffer from joint disease, including knee pain, running is less popular than the alternatives. Riding a bicycle and swimming are more joint-friendly cardio exercises.
  • Balance training.  Balance training is what it sounds like: exercise that helps us stay upright. Studies show that balance training helps prevent injuries as we get older — if we don’t fall, we don’t fracture or break bones — and preserves our function. A good example is Pilates. Tai chi and yoga also help increase balance.
  • Weight and resistance training. Dumbbells, fitness center machines, resistance bands … used regularly and properly, any form of weight or resistance training will help prevent osteoporosis and frailty in general. They assist with weight loss too, as all physical challenges burn calories. To avoid injury while building bone strength and muscle, start with light weights and just a few repetitions, then build up slowly. If you haven’t done any weight lifting recently, begin with resistance bands or even body-weight exercises such as lunges, push-ups and walking up stairs.

Exercise -- a Lot

The more you move, the better, following bariatric surgery. All movement is better than no movement, but it’s best to give yourself a goal.

Studies have shown that patients who exercise 300 minutes a week after bariatric surgery are much more successful at maintaining their weight-loss results. That is a considerable amount of time, but it’s very much doable — five hours a week, which is about 45 minutes daily. We can all make time for that, especially if you vary your routine.

To create and keep to a regular exercise routine, curate a schedule based on activities you love and enjoy. When you have a good time while getting exercise, you are much more likely to participate consistently and not just perceive it as a chore.

It is absolutely OK to experiment if you are not sure what sports or activities you might enjoy. Opt for those with moderate or high intensity; studies do not show a difference in results. In addition to the exercises mentioned above, consider the following.

  • Pickleball
  • Dance-exercise classes
  • Bowling
  • Water aerobics

To sum it up: Exercise regularly once the doctor says you can. Spend some time getting your heart rate up, some time lifting weights or using resistance bands, and some time improving your balance. You’ll get thinner, for sure, and also stronger, with stronger bones, a stronger heart and better balance. And, make it fun so you’ll stick to your new routine.

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