Cedric X. Bryant by Cedric X. Bryant

One of the underlying premises of almost all gastric bypass surgery programs is that gastric bypass patients can experience a wide range of benefits from exercising on a regular basis. Without question, exercise can play a critical role helping gastric bypass patients achieve long-term success in their efforts to fully recover from surgery and engage in a “normal” routine of activities. However, certain exercise training considerations and precautions exist for these individuals.

Benefits of Exercise Training for Gastric Bypass Surgery Patients

  • Helps preserve lean body mass
  • Aids in maintenance of weight loss
  • Helps maintain muscle strength and endurance
  • Helps develop and maintain muscle tone
  • Promotes joint stability
  • Enhances bone strength and integrity
  • Improves ability to perform activities of daily living (ADL)
  • Promotes improved skin elasticity
  • Boosts immune system
  • Elevates mood
  • Enhances self esteem and confidence
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves overall health, well-being, and mental outlook

Within the first 30 days after gastric bypass surgery, patients are typically very sore and uncomfortable. During that time, bariatric surgeons may prescribe a simple walking program for their patients. In most instances, patients are encouraged to walk at least three times a day for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, gradually increasing the duration of each walking bout as tolerated. Other forms of exercise are generally not recommended during this period. In fact, resistance training is contraindicated during at this time.

Depending on the fitness level of the patient, bariatric surgeons may approve of other types of exercise activities to be undertaken, beyond walking, at some point between 30 – 90 days after surgery. Aquatic activities tend to be a popular choice, since most exercise movements are more easily performed in water and the level of stress on the body’s joints is minimal. To the degree that they can tolerate them, patients can also engage in other low-impact, aerobic exercise activities. Regardless of what activities are part of a person’s exercise regimen, all aerobic workouts should stay at an exercise intensity level where speaking is comfortable (Zone 1 of the ACE Integrated Fitness Training Model for Cardiorespiratory Training).

As a rule, strength training exercise usually isn’t included in a gastric bypass surgery patient’s exercise program until about 120 days after the procedure to ensure that the body has been given sufficient time to heal. Furthermore, exercises targeting the abdominal and lower back regions are typically not recommended until at least six months after surgery. In addition, high-intensity and near-maximal load resistance training is normally precluded until almost a year post-surgery. Finally, caution should be taken when performing exercises that require a significant degree of balance and coordination (e.g., squats, lunges, step-ups). Because of the patient’s rapidly changing body weight following a bariatric procedure, which alter the body’s center of balance, these types of exercises are not recommended during the first six months after surgery.  

A well-designed and supervised exercise program is an essential component of a successful gastric bypass surgery program. As such, it is recommended that you work with your bariatric surgeon and a properly-trained fitness professional to develop a program that addresses your unique needs. By creating a program based on your personal preferences and abilities, the likelihood that you will experience long-term success in your pursuit of healthy active lifestyle will be greatly enhanced. For more detailed information on exercise and gastric bypass surgery, view the article from ACE Certified News magazine “How Fitness Professionals Can Help Gastric Bypass Patients Make the Transition to Healthier Lifestyles