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Exercise and Bariatric Surgery: 10 Steps to Get Started

We all know exercise is good for us. For those who’ve had bariatric surgery, it’s even more important because it helps maintain lean muscle that can be lost with rapid weight loss.

That’s just one benefit. Exercise also increases circulation which promotes healing, decreases risk of blood clots, improves digestion and bowel function and decreases stress and anxiety.

That best part is when you start to feel the results. Those who exercise after bariatric surgery see their BMI drop up to 4.2% more than those who don’t.

Steps To Begin and Maintain an Exercise Routine

Ready to get started, but unsure about how to begin? Use these 10 steps to add exercise to your bariatric surgery journey:

1. Follow Your Physician’s Recommendations.

They know what is ultimately best for you, including when to start activity and what to avoid.

2. Start Gradually

Begin with short walks and slowly increase your distance. You can also add steps to your day in simple ways, like using the stairs instead of an elevator and parking further away.

3. Choose Safe, Low-Impact Activities

Walking, swimming/water exercise, biking and strength training are good options. Remember to leave 24 hours between strength training sessions to allow muscles to recover and avoid overuse injuries.

4. Duration Over Intensity

Emphasize duration over intensity to decrease stress on the body. Walk longer instead of harder, or swim further versus more vigorously.

5. Stay Hydrated

Drink small amounts of water frequently as your stomach is smaller.

6. Be Mindful of Other Health Issues

If you also suffer from knee arthritis, for example, aquatic exercise may be a better choice for you. Consider seeing a physical therapist for specific direction on exercise.

7. Avoid Abnormal Pain

Activities should be challenging and you should be slightly out of breath, but it should not hurt. Muscular discomfort is normal. Pain other than muscular discomfort or incisional pain is not normal and is your cue to back off or change activity.

8. Be Active Daily

A goal of 60 minutes of activity six days a week is the general recommendation. Start where you are and work your way up to that amount.

9. Add Variety

Varied activity will help you avoid getting bored. You need to use your body in different ways, and trying something new can be fun. You might just discover a new favorite hobby.

10. Buddy Up to Stay Motivated.

Having a friend to exercise with can make it more fun. You’re more likely to show up if someone else is counting on you.

People who think of exercise as drudgery often find it becomes an enjoyable part of life. Take the first step today. It’s truly a path to long-term wellness.

For more info, reach out to our CHI Health Weight Management team.


  • Joshua Long, MD
Michelle Caniglia, PT, DPT
Michelle Caniglia, PT, DPT

Michelle Caniglia, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist with CHI Health.

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