Exercise for Bariatric Patients: Five Tips for Dietitians - Rational Foods
Exercise for Bariatric Patients: Five Tips for Dietitians

Exercise for Bariatric Patients: Five Tips for Dietitians

October 30, 2018

Bariatric surgery success relies largely on adherence to pre-op and post-op recommendations. And while diet may be the main focus area for many patients, the truth is that exercise is an equally important component in the bariatric lifestyle.

In fact, not only does exercise help patients optimize weight loss, but it also supports a number of other health benefits, according to research from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. For dietitians tasked with helping their patients reach their goals, reinforcing the importance of exercise is essential.

Of course, if getting more exercise was as easy as it sounds, the obesity problem would be far less widespread. Therefore, in addition to instructing patients on the importance of exercise, RDs can help them bridge the gap between knowledge and the application of knowledge by sharing with them actionable advice for leading more active lives — starting with the following five tips.

1. Start small and slow.

According to research published in the Journal of Obesity & Weight Loss Therapy, “Post-surgical observation studies consistently show a positive association between physical activity and improved weight loss, with physical activity and sedentary behaviors being the highest predictors for post-surgery weight loss.”

But while the mandate to move more is irrefutable, patients don’t need to become marathoners in order to do so. Small changes — such as taking the steps instead of the elevator — lead to the development of healthy habits. Patients may be eager to amp things up, but starting slowly and building from there supports both sustainability and injury prevention.

2. Set goals.

Says research published in the academic journal International Proceedings of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering: “Goal setting is an important element in physical activity (PA) and dietary interventions. Goal-setting techniques are effective in helping individuals initiate and maintain health behavior over time. Meta-analytic results suggest that participants in goal-setting conditions significantly increase fiber intake, report fewer dropouts in physical activity interventions, demonstrate higher exercise adherence, and reduce dietary sodium intake.”  

However, all goals aren’t created equal. Dietitians can best help their bariatric patients by guiding them towards S.M.A.R.T. goals, a.k.a. goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

Setting goals (and establishing a routine aimed at meeting them) can also help patients overcome another common barrier to exercise: time management.

3. Make it enjoyable.

From working out with a crowd to finding motivating music, research consistently shows that when exercise is fun, it’s not only more sustainable, but it can also lead to better results. Encouraging post-op patients to try different types of exercises and exercise environments can help them find the routine that works best for them.

Enlisting a buddy also promotes accountability. Simply put: Working out with a companion is linked with increased amounts of exercise.

4. Maintain a focus on nutrition.

While learning how to hydrate after bariatric surgery has its challenges, it’s critical to do so — especially when you factor in that the main cause of hospital admissions after bariatric surgery is dehydration. Patients should be encouraged to frequently replenish fluids while exercising. A proactive approach is best: Waiting until thirst sets in may mean dehydration has already set in.

Meeting the recommended protein requirements while exercising is also vital in terms of post-op health and wellness. If patients fail to get enough protein, they’ll likely feel tired and sluggish, which can interfere with the continuation of the routine.

5. Find healthy new rewards.

Weight loss patients should be encouraged to celebrate their successes. However, the unhealthy food rewards they may have formerly turned to will undermine their efforts. Registered dietitians can help patients stay on track by brainstorming with them non-food reward ideas, such as a massage, an afternoon with a good book, or a trip to the movies.

The act of getting bariatric surgery correlates with more positive attitudes about exercise. Proposes research published in Obesity Surgery: “After bariatric surgery, favorable changes in physical activity and beliefs about the benefits and barriers of exercising are observed. Our results suggest that targeting exercise cognitions before and after surgery might be relevant to improve physical activity.”

In other words, post-op patients may be newly primed to embrace exercise and all of the benefits that go along with leading more physically active lives.