Why is Exercise Important for Bariatric Patients?

Published May 25, 2021 By Anne Cook Carroll, MS, RDN

Bariatric surgery accelerates weight loss, especially during the first year after surgery, but long-term weight loss and health is dependent on your commitment to dietary and lifestyle changes. Incorporating regular exercise is essential for sustained weight loss and overall health. Here’s why:

  • Energy balance: Exercise burns calories which helps to achieve optimal energy balance, meaning calories in and calories out. If you consume more calories than your body burns, the excess calories will be stored as fat. Exercise helps to achieve a calorie deficit which yields weight loss.
  • Preserving lean muscle mass: When you lose weight after bariatric surgery, typically your body sheds both fat and muscle mass. Exercise helps to preserve lean muscle mass so that you are primarily shedding excess fat and not muscle.
  • Improved metabolism: Building muscle through exercise improves your metabolism, because muscle burns more calories than fat. If your body composition is high in muscle, you will burn more calories at rest.
  • Improved energy: Exercise improves the efficiency of your heart to pump blood to your body. An efficient heart means preserving energy, so you can take on more tasks and activities during your day. 
  • Improved sleep: People who exercise regularly tend to have more restful and restorative sleep. Adequate sleep is an important component to weight loss, as you need energy to stay committed to dietary and exercise routines.
  • Mental health: Bariatric surgery can be mentally challenging for patients. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine increases the release of neurotransmitters called endorphins, which improve overall mood and enhance mental clarity. 
  • Heart health: Exercise improves cardiovascular health, which can prevent heart disease and other chronic conditions. It also helps to lower cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. 


  • Assess your abilities: Excess weight can make working out difficult, so it’s important to consider your limitations as you plan your exercise. If your BMI is in the obese category, exercise can be hard on your joints. Choose lower impact exercises like walking, biking, and swimming when you are starting out. As your weight decreases, you will be able to sustain more rigorous and high impact workouts. 
  • Start small: Initiating a workout regimen can feel overwhelming. Start by just increasing your movement and reducing sedentary time. Set a step goal of 5,000 per day – build your stamina to achieve a minimum of 10,000 steps per day. 
  • Set goals: Goal setting can help you stay on track. Start by incorporating 15 minutes of exercise every other day and build to a goal of 30-60 minutes of exercise x6 days a week.
  • Make a schedule: Block off time on your schedule to ensure you make time for exercise.
  • Mix it up: Diversifying your workout routine will help to keep you engaged and committed. Incorporate a mix of cardio (ie. running, swimming, biking), strength training, HITT (High Intensity Interval Training), and stretching exercises to get an ideal balance of workouts. 

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Team Tip:

“Physical activity is a key component to living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It not only helps bariatric patients lose weight but maintain their weight loss as well. Exercise also reduces your risk of metabolic syndrome, improves energy and mood, and is an excellent form of stress management.”

– Liz