(Edit: As of February 19, 2018, I’ve noticed the popularity of this post starting to rise again, due to engagement from Pinterest. I merely wanted to note that, while I am still not a doctor, I am now a licensed and certified Personal Trainer through ACE Fitness – and nothing in this article has been invalidated by my education and training. Take care of yourself, and KEEP MOVING! – Jeremy)
I get it – obesity generally does not happen to those who are maintaining good habits like going to the gym. Now, after years of hanging out on the couch, we are told by our bariatric surgery team that we need to get active. And then we need to stay active.
So, how the heck do we do that?
A Word Of Caution
Now, remember, folks – I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. The most important step you can take here is to coordinate your fitness plan carefully with the professionals in your life. Talk to your bariatric surgeon. Set up an appointment with your family doctor. Chat with your nutritionist. Maybe even make an initial consultation with a physical trainer. Don’t decide that you know everything there is to know about the subject and do it yourself.
Why not? In a word: setbacks. My wife, Lor, decided 3 days after surgery to walk nearly half a mile, despite warnings about taking it slow from her surgical team. The result? She injured herself and was bed-ridden for nearly a week afterward. The most important thing to remember is speed (slow) and consistency (every day.)
Try to keep in mind that physical activity is your friend. (Though it may not feel like it at times.) I have talked to and read about dozens of people who suffered major weight regains in the years after surgery. The common element? Every single one of them had stopped exercising.
Getting Off The Bed
In the days immediately following your surgery, your surgical team will be telling you to walk as much as you can. Great news: you can do this anywhere, with no special equipment. Spend the first days at home from the hospital getting out of bed, walking a few times back and forth around your home, and lie back down. Keep doing this! It may seem pointless, but it really isn’t.
Any kind of exercise (even that slow walking you can do) increases blood flow through your body. It tells the brain that you are using those muscles, creating a caloric deficit. Since you are not getting anything but protein shakes or mush during your first month post-surgery, the calories you need have to come from somewhere. So the body begins tapping into fat reserves, burning off your excess fat.
By being active every day, and steadily increasing your physical activity, you are asking your body to maintain your muscles by burning fat. It is as simple (and as profound) as that.
Getting Into The Gym
At 30 days out, you will hopefully get the green light from your surgery team to add resistance exercise (weights) to your routine. For many of us, this is a daunting task. What the heck am I supposed to do at a gym, anyway?
Relax – it really isn’t that complex. There are literally hundreds of tools out there to get you started if you don’t have a pro available to build a routine for you. I know you have access to the internet – you’re reading this, right? A search of “beginning weightlifting routine” turns up newbie-friendly programs from reputable sites like bodybuilding.com, Muscle and Fitness, and Shape. Spend some time looking around, find one you like, and get started.
I, personally, selected a plan from JeFit, thanks to its integration with my smartphone. My memory is horrible – so bad that I will not remember exercises, weights, and reps from one week to the next. Accordingly, I place my workout on my cell phone. A notebook will work just as well. Lor keeps her entire routine in her head. Not that I am jealous or anything.
My routine is broken up over 3 days: Day #1 is Chest/Triceps, Day #2 is Back/Biceps/Forearms, and Day #3 is Shoulders/Legs. Each routine is only 6 or 7 exercises long. I am not looking to isolate single muscles yet. I am looking for exercises that hit lots of muscle groups all at the same time. Each routine takes me about an hour. On days when I am not lifting weights, I am spending about an hour doing cardio. I include crunches at the end of every workout – weightlifting or cardio.
I do this six days a week. Sunday, I watch football. It sorta feels like exercise, anyway.
Also, remember: your gym workout does not have to be in a gym. A set of resistance bands and a yoga mat can be enough to get you started. It certainly was for me. If you find yourself too short on time to get to a gym, do it at home. Just make sure you do it!
Getting Into It (For Life)
The most important thing you can do is find a workout routine you will stick with. Don’t like weights? Try something like Pilates or Yoga – a routine that uses the body’s weight against itself. Can’t stand running? Put yourself on an elliptical machine or a bike. The most important thing is consistency. The person who simply walks around their neighborhood for half an hour every day will eventually be in better shape than the person with an intensely detailed workout routine who only exercises once a week. Consistency is key.
After that, don’t allow yourself to get bored! Try new things, and create new challenges for yourself. As many of you know, I started the Couch to 5K program a couple of weeks back. I did this simply because I have always hated running. It creates a challenge for me – can I really push through all the weeks of the program? This is my motivation – doing better than the week before. Find your own motivations: body measurements, dance lessons, a new outfit. Use whatever it takes to inspire you to get up and get moving.
Though I don’t recommend using things like “ice cream sundae” as a motivation. That way lies madness.
Ready For C25K Week 3,