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Collaboration Highlights Need to Research Benefits of Exercise After Bariatric Surgery

March 21, 2023

Bariatric surgery, as surgeons will tell you, is just one tool of many in the battle against obesity.

Recent research released by teams at Hartford Hospital and the University of Connecticut reinforce the value of exercise as soon as possible after bariatric surgery as a way to ensure the patient’s long-term success.

“We tell people surgery isn’t a magical cure for obesity, that it’s one tool in their fight,” says Pavlos Papasavas, MD, a bariatric surgeon and director of surgical research at Hartford Hospital, and part of the recent collaborative research.

Bariatric surgery uses several approaches to redirect or restrict the digestive system and allow severely obese patients to lose large amounts of weight, which helps improves such health conditions as diabetes, sleep apnea and hypertension. Many patients, however, regain some weight within two years of their surgery, which can cause those health conditions to return.

While weight loss experts understand the value of exercise in keeping weight off after bariatric surgery, the most effective type remains unknown.

Mining files

The research team, led by Linda Pescatello, PhD, professor of kinesiology at UConn, evaluated almost 1,400 studies and found just five describing specific exercise being prescribed to patients after surgery.

Dale Bond, PhD, director of research integration at Hartford Hospital, says the slim findings highlight the need to determine specific exercise programs bariatric practitioners could prescribe to their patients after surgery for maximum long-term success.

These prescriptions, Bond says, could be framed by the principles of FITT (frequency, intensity, time and type) exercise.

“We used this study as evidence to say we need much more research to understand this question,” Dr. Bond says. “To us, this was an opportunity to highlight some things future studies should do.”

Squashing stigma

Outlining such continued interventions would be helpful to providers and prove valuable for their patients battling obesity.

“People still do not fully understand obesity,” Dr. Papasavas says. “Many people think that all you need to do to stay in shape is eat healthy and exercise, but there are many other factors and barriers that contribute to obesity. The confusion causes stigma and guilt for our patients.”

It is especially challenging, he adds, for patients who regain weight after surgery to admit they need more help.

Train the providers

The research team says this work would support providers as they help their patients.

“Just because someone is a skilled bariatric surgeon doesn’t mean they fully understand how to prescribe effective exercise routines to their patients,” Dr. Papasavas says. “Understanding this step would be invaluable.”

The recent collaboration between UConn and Hartford Hospital will, hopefully, continue in this area, he says.

“I’m very excited about this collaboration, and believe it’s the beginning of many future collaborations,” he says.