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A Comprehensive Guide to Exercising Post-Surgery: Tips for a Safe and Speedy Recovery

Post-surgery exercise is beneficial...when done right. We'll tell you how!
By Heather Campbell
Heather is a wellness expert, author and speaker and Co-Founder / CEO at Ready Set Recover. She previously held senior leadership positions at Audacy Radio Networks and ESPN. Heather has an MBA from NYU and a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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If you've recently undergone surgery, you might be wondering when it's safe to resume your exercise routine and what types of workouts are appropriate during your recovery process. Although each person and surgery is unique, there are some general guidelines to follow when it comes to exercise after surgery. In this blog post, we'll explore when to start exercising, the best exercises to choose, the benefits of exercise and some tips for a safe and effective workout recovery.

When to Start Exercising After Surgery

The timeline for resuming exercise after surgery depends on the type of procedure you've had and your personal healing process. Always prioritize the advice of your surgeon and physical therapist when considering when to restart your fitness routine. It's essential to communicate with your healthcare team about your overall fitness and exercise preferences. Avoid making assumptions.

While you often hear “rest!” following surgery, it’s now known that rest in combination with movement is usually a better recipe for the healing process. In reality, getting the body moving soon after surgery can help avoid blood clots and has been found to result in faster recovery. For most surgeries, it's generally safe to start doing light, low-impact activities, such as walking or gentle stretching, within a few days to a week after surgery. This will help reduce swelling and improve blood flow, which can aid in your recovery. 

If your surgery involved a joint replacement, such as a hip or knee replacement, it may take longer for you to start exercising again. You may need to use crutches or a walker for a few weeks after surgery and may need to avoid putting weight on the joint for several weeks or months.

It's important to listen to your body and take things slowly as you start to exercise again after surgery. Don't push yourself too hard or try to do too much too soon, especially during the first few weeks, as this can lead to setbacks in your recovery. So activities like strenuous weight training should be avoided. It's better to start with short, gentle workouts and gradually increase the intensity and duration as you feel ready. (And if something causes pain, stop!)

Also, pay close attention to the surgery site. Stretching in an area where you have sutures can pull them apart, so focus your effort on other parts of the body that aren't directly affected. For example, if you've had foot surgery, you can still get your heart rate up by moving your upper body or prevent atrophy of your muscles by doing some light weight lifting with your arms.

Lastly, what you might be able to do one day may be different from the next. It's human nature to expect steady improvement. Just remember, recovery isn’t a linear process. Try not to get frustrated.

Choosing the Right Exercises After Surgery

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The appropriate exercises after surgery will depend on the type of procedure you've had and your individual recovery process. Here are some general guidelines for different types of surgeries to discuss with your medical practitioners:

Cardiovascular Surgery

After cardiovascular surgery, such as a heart bypass or heart valve replacement, take things slowly when restarting exercise. Walking, biking, and swimming are typically good low-impact options. Pay close attention to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard, since your heart may not be ready for strenuous exercise immediately.

Orthopedic Surgery

For orthopedic surgeries like hip or knee replacements, avoid putting weight on the joint for a specified period. Your surgeon and physical therapist will provide guidelines for when it's safe to start exercising the joint. Once cleared, low-impact activities like biking, swimming, and using an elliptical machine are good options. Gradually progress to more intense exercises, such as running or jumping, as your recovery advances.

Abdominal Surgery

Following abdominal surgery, such as hernia repair or appendix removal, wait until you've fully healed before starting exercises that involve the abdominal muscles. Gentle stretching and walking can usually begin within a week or two weeks after surgery, but avoid straining the ab muscles until fully no sit ups!

General Surgery

For patients with general surgeries, such as a hysterectomy or gallbladder removal, ease back into exercise with gentle stretching, walking, and low-impact cardio. Once again, avoid exercises causing pain or discomfort, and gradually increase workout intensity and duration when you feel ready.

Benefits of Exercise During Recovery

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Exercise plays a crucial role in the recovery process after surgery. Here are some benefits of incorporating exercise during recovery:

  • Exercise can help to improve circulation and reduce swelling and inflammation in the affected area. This can speed up the healing process and reduce discomfort.

  • Exercise can help to maintain or improve flexibility and range of motion in the affected area, which can make it easier for you to perform daily activities and reduce the risk of injury.

  • Exercise can help to build strength and endurance, which can improve your overall physical function and make it easier for you to perform daily activities.

  • Exercise can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation, which can be especially beneficial during the recovery process when you may be feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

  • Exercise can help to improve sleep quality, which is important for overall health and recovery.

Tips for Exercising Safely During Recovery

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A Few Quick Tips:

  • Don't try to do too much too soon. Your body needs time to heal so take it slow. Start with short, gentle workouts and gradually increase the intensity and duration as you feel ready.

  • Pay attention to how your body feels during exercise. If certain motions cause pain or discomfort, stop the activity and consult with your healthcare provider. Feel like you can do more? Excellent - but check to make sure you aren’t overdoing it. 

  • Use proper form when performing exercises to reduce the risk of injury. If you are unsure how to perform an exercise correctly, consult with a physical therapist or personal trainer.

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to stay hydrated.

  • Bring a buddy or coach. Having someone who can give you encouragement and support when and if you need it is tremendously useful. A workout partner can help you stay on track with your routine, ensure you're doing things correctly, provide motivation and encouragement and deliver valuable social connection.

  • Wear comfortable shoes that are appropriate for the type of exercise you are doing (oh, and tie those trips back to the hospital, please).

  • If you feel tired or short of breath, take a break and rest. That's part of listening to your body...


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Exercise is an important part of the recovery process after surgery. However, it's critical to consult with your doctor and physical therapist before starting any exercise program and to listen to your body as you reintroduce exercise into your daily routine. By following these guidelines and taking care to exercise safely, you can contribute to a successful recovery and improve your overall health and fitness levels. Remember that recovery is not a linear process; be patient with yourself, expect ups and downs, and set realistic goals as you work toward regaining your strength and returning to your old routine.

At Ready Set Recover, we recognize the value of a post-surgery exercise regimen implemented in conjunction with your doctor and have the tools in our program to enable you to achieve your long-term health goals. If you can use more support during this challenging time, we can help you on your journey.