Optimizing Your Walking Habits After Bariatric Surgery
Let’s say you’ve just had bariatric surgery, or you’re well into recovery. You’ll probably remember the staff at the hospital getting you up and about, walking almost immediately after you woke up post-surgery. There’s a good reason: walking improves circulation, lowering the risk of a blood clot or infection after surgery. It’s also the first representation of the new life you must pursue after surgery. It would be great if the pounds melt off after surgery with diet alone, and to some degree, they do, but every patient must understand their exercise responsibilities after surgery to ensure they optimize their weight loss.
Once You Get Home
Once you return home, you will be uncomfortable for several days – it’s just the nature of a surgical procedure. This is normal and should gradually improve until you return to your old self. It’s easy to stay home and sit on the couch or stay in bed during this time. But this is one of the more critical times to set the stage for a longer-term success. Each day, we encourage you to get out and start walking, ideally on relatively flat, even surfaces so you don’t trip. You may only be able to walk for five or 10 minutes the first day or two, but quickly, you’ll notice the ability to go further – take full advantage. By adding a few minutes of walking each day, we hope to eventually have you walking 30 to 60 minutes over the day. This not only keeps your muscles strong but also burns additional calories and improves the shape of your body in addition to weight loss.
No matter how often you go to the gym, and we suggest it be at least 2 to 3 times per week, keeping your walking habits going is essential. There are a couple of benefits of this. First, this easy, no-impact cardio only enhances weight loss results and improves muscle tone. Beyond that, however, you will also enjoy the stress-busting relief that taking a break and walking offers for many patients. Being out in the open, whether hot or cold, is a change in scenery from our usual work and home environment. This is also a time when you can encourage family or friends to join you. Whether they need to lose weight or not, your relationships will improve.
Zone Two Training
You may have heard of many fad diets and exercises, but one has proven benefits and continues to withstand the test of time. Zone two training is a technique that maintains 70-80% of your maximum heart rate for 45 minutes or more. This is achieved by brisk walking on a relatively flat surface but not so fast that you can’t maintain a normal conversation with your buddy or companion. Zone two training benefits foundational strength and allows you to build upon that for more efficient, higher-intensity cardio workouts.
To be even more precise, we suggest monitoring your heart rate and maintaining the target heart rate throughout your walk. Of course, if you feel over-stressed or in pain, cut the walk short, recover, and start again in a few days at a lower intensity level.
How Many Steps Should I Be Taking?
How many steps you should take each day is a topic of discussion and conflict online, with some saying as few as 7500 are just fine, while others advocate for 12 to 15,000. As with almost everything after bariatric surgery, we don’t believe there is a hard and fast rule. Instead, we tell our patients that they should push themselves to do a little more at each subsequent exercise encounter. If you’ve walked to a particular milestone over the past week, try going further for the next two weeks. Continue doing this without too much regard for how many steps you have taken, but note how you feel during and after your exercise, as this is the best indicator of success. If you feel invigorated and challenged but not entirely exhausted, you have probably done as much as your body will allow.
How About Calorie Tracking?
While calorie trackers can give you a good sense of how many calories you have consumed through food and drink over a day, they are less accurate regarding exercise. Typically, we overestimate the number of calories we burn, which, combined with often underestimating the number of calories we consume, can lead to trouble. We suggest using half the calories or omitting your caloric burn entirely to keep it closer to reality.
The Bottom Line
Exercise is an essential part of your post-bariatric life. While walking may seem trivial, consistent, low-impact, low-stress exercise can enhance your other exercise and dietary regimen. As always, we encourage you to contact our office if you have any questions about your exercise program or need more guidance on losing or maintaining that weight loss long-term.