Exercise: Insurance for Long-term Bariatric Success

bariatric surgery fitness

By Ayotunde Adeyeri, MD FASMBS

“How can I make sure I don’t gain all the weight back?”

This is one of the most common questions weight loss surgery warriors ask me.

Certainly, maintaining a healthy diet is vital. But for long-term weight maintenance, there’s a second key component—a lifelong exercise program.

During the first year after your operation, the weight comes off fairly steadily. But after you significantly lower your BMI, or reach goal weight, weight loss slows. Perhaps you’ve even gained weight back years after surgery.

If you are two or more years post-op, a consistent and active lifestyle is the secret sauce to staving off regain.

Pre-Op Exercise

Depending on your health and weight, your bariatric doctor, dietitian and/or nurse navigator will introduce some physical activity to revitalize your metabolism, increase flexibility and give your body a ‘heads-up’ that things are about to change.

Don’t start any fitness program without your doctor’s consent. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself and delay your bariatric operation.

Weight-loss will be the primary goal of your exercise program. Excess fat can make the weight-loss surgery operation itself more challenging. In fact, most surgeons require that their patient lose a certain amount of weight before weight loss surgery.

Focus on cardiovascular exercise to improve heart health, decrease body weight and help lose body fat before surgery. Start with a walking regime and increase the time you walk every few days.

Post-Op Exercise

Now it’s time to plan your strategy with your bariatric team. What kind of activity will you pursue and how—specifically—will you fit it into your daily schedule? How long should your workouts be and how strenuous?

For the first four-six weeks after surgery, focus on flexibility exercises, deep breathing and resuming normal daily activities.

Gradually build in regularly-scheduled, low-intensity aerobic exercise (walking, biking, Zumba or swimming).

Expect to feel fatigued up to eight weeks after surgery. Your body is in the process of adjusting to your significantly lower caloric intake. Therefore, do not perform high-intensity workouts.

As weight is lost and the level of fitness improves, you will be able to take in a few more calories and exercise at higher levels of intensity.

Don’t forget weight training—lifting light weights is key to maintaining lean muscle!

Muscle is good for boosting metabolism, whereas fat is the culprit. Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting you lift heavy weights—multiple reps using light weights will reap positive results.

Maintaining muscle is key to protecting long-term weight management.

Track Your Fitness Efforts

Using whatever digital or written method works for you, write down your daily fitness efforts each day. It will serve as an inspiration to you and serve as valuable insight for your bariatric team to review during office visits.

I also encourage patients to write down how they feel after working out; many report that physical fitness releases positive endorphins, decreases appetite and significantly boosts daily energy.

During your bariatric journey, your weight loss will speed up and slow down. Stay true to your activity schedule regardless and keep challenging your limits.

Make friends with fitness. It will always serve as the backbone of your long-term weight loss maintenance.

Ayotunde Adeyeri, MD, FASMBS, is a board-certified advanced laparoscopic, bariatric and general surgeon on staff at several central New Jersey hospitals. He is the medical director of Sterling Surgicare in Holmdel; medical director of the Institute for Weight Loss, Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center-Old Bridge, and co-medical director of Central Jersey Bariatrics in Freehold.

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