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Exercise After Bariatric Surgery To Lose & Maintain Your Weight

August 14, 2017

Obesity is a growing epidemic with more people turning to weight loss surgery as a means for long-term weight loss and improved health after several failed attempts at diet and exercise programs.

Unfortunately, bariatric procedures are not the cure all. All weight loss surgery procedures are a tool but you are in control of using the tool for the maximum benefits for your health.

For long-term weight management after bariatric surgery, and anyone looking to manage their weight loss, a healthy relationship with food and exercise needs to be created.

When you exercise after bariatric surgery, you will create a powerful habit that will help you lose weight and, more importantly, maintain your weight loss. In addition, exercise can reduce food cravings, lower blood pressure, control blood sugars, reduce cholesterol, improve the quality of life, increase sex drive, and elevate metabolism to maintain long-term weight loss. If you're worried about losing weight, maintaining, or regaining weight, exercise is an important factor address your concerns. In addition to all of the physical benefits of exercise, you will feel mental and emotional benefits as well.

Exercise After Bariatric Surgery

Aerobic and Anaerobic Activity

Aerobic activity, also referred to as cardiovascular activity, improves heart function and blood flow throughout the body.  It requires oxygen for burning fuel such as stored carbohydrates and fat.

Anaerobic activity, also known as resistance or strength training, increases lean body mass by building muscle. Most often females shy away from weights believing the myth that fat turns into muscle creating a wider frame, or creating a “bulky physique.” The truth is, that muscle is active tissue which requires energy or calories for sustenance. Hence, increased muscle composition burns more energy at rest, leading to a higher Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).

Stretching should also be made a priority to enhance the flexibility of joints and reduce the risk of injury. Starting a fitness program may be challenging due to many factors. Failed attempts with exercise in the past, joint pain, or lack of energy are just a few reasons that might deter you from physical activity. Alternatively, you simply just don’t know where to start.

Fitness Training

If exercise is new to you or if you aren't sure how to create your own fitness routine, consider hiring a certified personal trainer. A personal trainer that has experience and is sensitive to working with clients that are morbidly obese, have physical limitations or have had weight loss surgery, can help you to execute exercises safely. With any fitness activity, you want to maintain proper form and understand the muscle groups you will be working and to avoid injury or undue stress on your body.

To stick with your exercise routine, make it fun. Consider alternate short periods of cardiovascular activity with light resistance training, monitoring your pulse before, during and after exercise. Maintain an elevated heart rate for higher caloric expenditure and more importantly make it fun with intervals to avoid monotony.

A fitness professional will show you how to be cautious of weak joints. If your body has supported large amounts of weight, talk with a personal trainer about introducing isometric exercises that will limit the range of motion and force your muscles to activate while holding static positions.

Strength Training Exercises

  • Side Shoulder Raise (for the outer portion of the shoulders)
    • Start with arms hanging in front of thighs, elbows slightly bent, and palms facing each other
    • Raise both dumbbells outward simultaneously to shoulder heights, keeping elbows slightly bent
    • Lower dumbbells to starting positions and repeat
  • Front Shoulder Raise (for the front portion of the shoulders)
    • Begin with arms hanging in front of thighs and palms facing thighs
    • Raise one dumbbell straight in front of you to shoulder height
    • Lower dumbbell to starting positions and repeat using the other arm
    • Alternate arms
  • Upright Row (for shoulders, neck and upper back)
    • Stand with arms hanging in front of thighs, palms facing thighs, and dumbbells close together
    • Keeping palms close to the body, raise dumbbells simultaneously to the chin
    • Lower dumbbells to starting position and repeat
  • Biceps Curl (for biceps or the front of arms)
    • Commence the exercise with arms hanging at sides and palms facing away from your body
    • Keeping the elbows close to your sides, curl both dumbbells upward to the shoulders
    • Lower and repeat
  • One-Arm Dumbell Triceps Curl (for triceps)
    • Stand erect, head up, feet 16 inches apart
    • Hold dumbbell in right hand; raise overhead to arm's length, upper arm close to head
    • Lower dumbbell in semicircular motion behind head until forearm touches biceps
    • Return to starting position and repeat with left arm
    • Inhale down, exhale up
  • Alternated Dumbbell Press (for front and outer deltoids)
    • Raise dumbbells to shoulder height, palms, and elbows in
    • Press one dumbbell straight up to arm's length
    • Lower to starting position and press the other dumbbell up
    • Keep body rigid; do not lean from side to side
    • Do all work with shoulders and arms
    • Inhale up, exhale down

Example Of How To Progress A Fitness Routine

  • Interval training:
    • Five minutes on a stationary bike
    • Alternate two sets of 12-15 reps of a single joint exercise, such as leg extension, seated leg curl, cable push down, dumbbell bicep curl, or other similar exercises followed by gentle stretching
    • Incorporate basic core strengthening and hip-opening exercises
    • Progress by introducing elliptical or treadmill intervals and multi-joint strength moves
  • Progression:
    • As you become more comfortable, increase to three sets of 12-15 reps, and add longer cardio sessions
    • Add balance challenges, such as performing bicep curls on one leg or using a balance disc

As your fitness level builds and your self-image improves, continue to challenge your body.

If exercising is fun, you'll be more apt to do it frequently and regularly. Consider joining a gym and participate in group fitness classes. If you cringe at the sight of a treadmill, then try a Zumba class. You can work one on one with a certified fitness professional. Remember, when you exercise regularly, you are revving up your metabolism and paving the pathway for optimal weight loss, maintain your weird, and help to avoid weight regain.

The key is to look forward to nurturing your body through physical activity rather than looking at it as another task you "have to do" but as a "get to do" part of your day.

If joining a gym is too intimidating, start using resistance bands. Resistance bands are a great alternative to weight machines and dumbbells because they support controlled movements. Most importantly, if you have physical limitations such as knee pain or joint injuries, choose low impact exercises like water aerobics, boxing, rowing machines, and other activities that are approved by your medical team. It is crucial for your medical team be involved in your exercise routines as part of your lifestyle as you embark on a healthy journey to success.


Sharon Zarabi is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Personal Fitness Trainer with the International Fitness Professional's Association (IFPA) and Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA.) As she continues her life’s work, her vision is to continue to use fitness and nutrition as a means to offer spiritual and emotional upheaval in people's lives.