Your Fitness Level Before and After Bariatric Surgery


Along with dietary changes and staying hydrated, regular fitness is one of the keys to long-term success following bariatric surgery. Emily Newell, RD, LDN, CNSC, is a dietician for the Penn Metabolic & Bariatric Program at Pennsylvania Hospital. She helps patients before and after weight-loss surgery. She says patients often lead a largely sedentary lifestyle before surgery. In some cases, their weight or other obesity-related health complications makes being physically active difficult.

Once a patient has decided to move forward with surgery, Newell and the other staff dieticians begin easing them into a fitness routine. They will work with patients’ special needs, such as recommending stretches to wheelchair-bound patients or pool workouts for those who have joint pain. They also help patients recognize that exercise should be a regular, scheduled activity in their day-to-day routines.

Due to the increasingly minimally invasive nature of many bariatric surgeries, patients can resume exercising immediately following their procedure. “We have them doing laps around nurses’ station the day of their surgery,” Newell says. “Within two weeks, they can get on the treadmill.” She advises against patients hitting the weight room or pool for several weeks while their bodies are still recovering, but strongly encourages moderate daily cardiovascular activity such as walking.

When patients are first starting out or simply trying to maintain a goal weight once they’ve reached it, Newell tells them to aim for 30 minutes a day of regular, scheduled cardiovascular activity such as biking, walking or running on a treadmill, dancing, or aerobic classes such as zumba. When they’re ready, she encourages them to work up to 60 minutes per day. She also encourages patients to be as active as they can in their daily lifestyle outside of scheduled gym time: “Take the stairs, walk during your lunch break, clean the house, stretch during TV commercials,” she says.

After their initial large weight loss, many patients add weight training of some kind to tone up. At that point, says Newell, it’s common for them to notice that their clothing may be fitting better even if the number on the scale doesn’t budge—a sign that they are replacing body fat with more dense muscle tissue. The most important thing to remember, she says, is to just keep at it. Exercise can be key to reaching your goal weight and maintaining a healthy, happy lifestyle. For more information, sign up for a free weight-loss surgery information session with the Penn Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery program.