Exercise After Bariatric Surgery

By Louise Petrou

Exercise. Accept it, embrace it and enjoy it. It improves your mood almost immediately, it gets you out and about to engage with the world and feel connected. So why else should you bother with it?

Exercise is otherwise known as PA (Physical Activity). PA doesn’t just occur in gyms. There are a lot of misconceptions about exercise. Exercise is a way of building or maintaining lean muscle mass. This is an incredibly important long-term weight management and overall health goal for you. This is your mission and you must sign up for it.

Exercise burns calories and fat which is necessary for weight-maintenance long term. The overabundance of stored calories as fat is the definition of obesity (although it is not the reason for obesity the disease alone which involves genes, metabollic dysfunction and environment amongst other factors). Exercise burns fat in order to lose weight. Different activities burn calories or fat at different rates.

Activities that we don’t think of as exercise burn calories very effectively such as gardening, chores or stretching. Even looking after small children and participating in their simple games can not only be fun, and mood enhancing, but also effective exercise activity. I was privvy to a game of “who can do this the longest?” while swimming today which meant you had to tread water the longest (I lost).

If you have joint pain or osteoarthritis, regular exercise to coincide with your weight loss will improve pain and allow you to be more mobile much more effectively than just popping a NSAID medication. (That is not to say you should cease medications without your Doctor’s advice).

Resistance training is an excellent exercise to build strength, particularly for women as they age so do look into this with a professional such as an Exercise Physiologist or a Physiotherapist. It entails using weights or a weight machine, using your own body weight (squats or calf raises) or for more low impact some pool time. It does not burn calories as effectively as other exercises, although there are evidence-based studies conducted by health practitioners that demonstrate strength training is an integral part of keeping strong and healthy bones.

The intensity of the activity is important, yet the duration and how often you perform it matters.

Having had bariatric surgery, you are no doubt more in tune with your body and keen to understand how efficient your body is. Exercise is more than building muscle and burning calories, it’s an important part of the commitment you have made in wanting to live a healthier life. It doesn’t mean you have to go crazy and have a competition with people who are 23 years old when you are 53.

Walking is a great exercise, although if you have painful joints, walking may be a turn off. Instead find every day activities that focus on important areas such as cardio and strength. Here are a few examples:

Aerobic/endurance – you can get it from vacuuming, raking leaves, pushing a child on a swing, walking up a gentle slope or you could do an aqua aerobics class – perfect for hot weather.
Strength training – get up from a chair, carry laundry, carry a small child, lift some bags of mulch or tend to the shopping. (this is to be attempted after a few weeks post op not day 2!)

Perhaps you prefer the privacy of your own group – start one with some like-minded people and you will encourage each other to keep up the good work. (This is based on real patients who did this and it works!).

If you are worried about injury or have no clue where to start, why not spoil yourself with a personal trainer who understands you are not planning on the Olympics.

If you’ve had joint or mobility issues see a Physiotherapist or an Exercise Physiologist who can design an exercise programme specifically for you as you become more physically liberated by your significant weight loss. Remember many health fund plans cover these items.

Join a local community club and do something fun for exercise such as dancing or your surf or swimming club or local bush-walking group. Get together with a work mate and go for a lunchtime walk. Park a kilometre away from the supermarket or a restaurant.

Used to love body boarding or a swim each morning in the ocean, splash about in the local river on a hot day? Get down there! Always loved dancing at concerts but haven’t had the nerve? Move that body! Find your personal joy again.


We encourage you to start walking when you get home from the hospital. Gentle walks around the block to begin and then venturing out further each day for 30 minutes. If you started with ten minute increments this would be optimal and is still effective. This movement will assist your healing and wellbeing. Do not sit for long periods or spend all of your days in bed.

You can swim when the bandages come off and the port sites look dry and clean. Be careful not to do arduous laps or swim in a public pool with hundreds of kids where you may be accidentally kicked. Gentle movement in the water moving up to aquaerobics and laps.

After four weeks following surgery you can attempt more rigorous exercise. It is important to develop your own personal goals. Exercise will be an invaluable way to keep the weight off long term.

Here are some examples of how exercise works for you:
Activities and Minutes needed to burn 100 calories
Daily activities:
Washing dishes 28
Gardening 20
Mowing the lawn 20
Light house cleaning 18
Heavy house cleaning 14
Family Activities:
Walking in the park 30
Coaching kids sport 20
Walking the dog 20
Washing your car 20
Slow dancing 25
Dancing fast, like Zumba 14
Family bike ride 13
Individual activities:
Stretching 25
Weightlifting 25
Bowling 25
Golfing 25
Water aerobics 25
Walking 3kms 20
Aerobics, low impact 14
A step machine 14
Tennis 13
Bicycle ride 13
Running 10
Circuit training 10
Team sports:
Netball 25
Softball 17
Soccer 11
Basketball 10
Horseback riding 20
Yoga 20