With weight loss surgery, it can be easy to ignore exercise. Your weight is coming off fast—so why do you need exercise to help with that? Well, to be honest, you don’t. Exercise after weight loss surgery isn’t about aiding actual weight loss (even for people who haven’t had this surgery experience minor weight loss effects from exercise), but it’s still important because it helps mitigate some of the procedure’s negative aspects

Let me give you an example:
If you ate 3,000-plus calories a day pre-surgery, and post-surgery your max limit is 1,000 calories, then you are going to lose weight. If you exercise, such as walking for 60 minutes, you’ll burn about 300 calories. When you look at the daily difference between that 2,000-calorie deficit with weight loss surgery compared to the 300-calorie deficit with exercise, you can see why exercise shouldn’t be seen as a major part of your fat loss. But this isn’t an excuse to not exercise; instead it’s a lens that will help you see exercise in a different way. 

Just because exercise isn’t the primary vehicle for weight loss doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Weight loss surgery is a very aggressive method of weight loss. That’s why it’s so effective. But there is a dark side: the loss of muscle mass and bone that results from the surgery. This loss of muscle mass has many negative effects on your overall quality of life. These negative effects can show up in the little things you do every day. When you have less muscle, you can find things like walking up and down stairs, carrying your groceries, and being able to easily get up and down from the floor all become more difficult.

Muscle is important

In addition to this loss of strength, losing muscle mass can affect your overall health. Your muscles, along with your liver, are primary storage sites for glucose, aka blood sugar. When you start losing muscle mass, you are also losing a primary storage site for excess blood sugar. Muscle is also an energy hog—that is, it has a big effect on your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories your body uses during non-exercise activities, such as breathing and other general functions). So the less muscle you have, the lower your overall non-movement daily calorie usage will be. If you have more muscle, your body will need—and use—more calories.

Muscle is an energy hog. The more you have the more energy your body will need to use.

One of the best ways to combat this loss is through exercise, specifically movements focused on strength training. What happens if you don’t exercise? Well, research shows that people who have undergone gastric bypass and did not exercise for the first year after surgery lost, on average, 31 percent of their pre-surgical lean body mass—and that includes muscle mass. [1] That’s a massive loss!

Consistent exercise will change how you feel about it

Even with this warning, many people who have undergone weight loss surgery still don’t exercise. This may be because they don’t know how, feel intimidated by it, or just don’t like it. Yet I’ve seen some very inspiring changes from my clients who have dedicated a few hours a week to exercise. These are people who would admit that pre-surgery they hated exercise, and even after the surgery they really didn’t want to do it. But they knew that by undergoing weight loss surgery, they had put themselves on a new life path and exercise needed to be a part of that. None of them found it easy, but after about three or four months of consistent exercise, something happened. In fact, most of my clients—even the reluctant exercisers—have eventually told me that they don’t like to miss their workouts. Don’t confuse that with actually liking the workout, although many found it became less miserable. But they were starting to feel the positive aspects that come from the combination of exercise and weight loss surgery. Missing a few days or a week became a negative to them. It was a transformation from “I have to work out” to “I want to work out.”

This transformation will happen for you, but to get there you have to be willing to be consistent and methodical with exercise.