Why your bones need extra TLC after weight loss surgery

Obesity is a leading health concern. But for some people, losing weight seems impossible. For them, weight loss surgeries, known collectively as bariatric surgery, can work and carry some major metabolic benefits. But there’s a downside for your bone health. But if that’s all that’s standing in your way, you can get around it…

One of the benefits of bariatric surgery is that it can help reduce severe obesity-related health conditions. Some of these potentially life-threatening weight-related health problems include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Sleep apnea
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? In addition to long-term weight loss, that’s an impressive list of health benefits. However, there is a downside to bariatric surgery: it can have a detrimental effect on your bone health.

Numerous studies have shown that a loss of bone mineral density (BMD) follows rapid weight loss — the kind most people experience following bariatric surgery.

Loss of bone mineral density sets you up for bones that fracture more easily. And that means a simple fall could be disastrous.

Unfortunately, research is consistent in showing that gastric bypass surgery leads to more fragile bones. But it’s also showing there is a simple way to avoid losing your bone density when you lose weight…

Exercise may protect bone health after weight loss surgery

It would be a shame to miss out on the major metabolic benefits of weight loss surgery, like reducing your blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, risk because of one obstacle. And luckily, you may not have to, in case you’re considering bariatric surgery.

A recent study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research assigned 84 patients undergoing weight loss surgery to an exercise or control group for 11 months.

The patients in the exercise group performed high impact, balance, and resistance exercises three times per week. When findings were revealed 12 months post-surgery, those in the exercise group had higher bone mineral density measurements at the lumbar spine and forearm compared to those in the control group.

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Another group of participants performed half the exercise sessions and had higher bone mineral density at the femoral neck than the control group. These findings conclude the benefits of participating in a structured exercise program to minimize bariatric surgery bone loss.

Exercise and physical activities are great ways to feel better and can be enjoyable for all ages. 

Patients who are considering weight loss surgery should increase their fitness levels before surgery. Other research has proven that the better the cardiovascular condition before surgery — the fewer complications experienced post-surgery.

But following surgery, stick to your postoperative guidelines that may look something like this:

  • The first four weeks after surgery, take it easy, and focus on flexibility exercises and deep breathing.
  • Once your surgeon approves activity, you can gradually incorporate low-intensity exercise (walking or swimming) into your daily routine
  • No high-intensity exercises
  • Avoid lifting more than 15 lbs.
  • Avoid abdominal exercises
  • Reduce caloric intake

Also, try to get some good old vitamin D following surgery. Not only is it good for our bones, but research published in the journal Obesity Science and Practice found that patients undergoing bariatric surgery in the United States during winter — January to March, the time of lowest vitamin D levels — had a harder recovery than patients who had procedures in the summer. Similarly, patients having surgery in the north seemed to have more complications than those in the south.

“Sun exposure is critical in the synthesis of vitamin D, so the notion that people living in less sunny northern states may suffer from vitamin D deficiency is not surprising,” says Leigh Peterson, Ph.D., M.H.S., a nutritionist and postdoctoral research fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery, who led the research. “What is remarkable is how closely sun exposure, vitamin D and surgical outcomes were linked.”

Then, when your doctor gives you the all-clear, consider slowing working up to a daily exercise routine.

Sources:

Exercise may protect bone health after weight loss surgery — EurekAlert!

Weight-loss Surgery and Fitness — Obesityaction.org

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Tracey G. Ingram, AuD

By Tracey G. Ingram, AuD

Tracey G. Ingram is a former Occupational Therapist, and presently a writer and Doctor of Audiology with more than 20 years of experience. She enjoys living a healthy lifestyle and feels health is a complete state of physical, mental and social wellbeing. She practices intermittent fasting, Pilates, yoga, hiking and daily meditation. She loves to share her experiences with nutrition, supplements and eating organic foods to help others improve their health.