Reduce Post-Op Complications with Exercise
You can reduce post-op complications with as little as 4 to 6 weeks of high intensity training prior to surgery. And, that is true even if you are not currently exercising. The reductions on post-op surgical complications is significant following a period of high intensity interval training in the weeks leading up to surgery.
These findings are the conclusion of study out of New Zealand that looked at 12 studies involving 832 patients who engaged in high intensity interval training (HIIT) before having surgery. The patients performed interval training at 80% of their maximal heart rate. The age of the patients in the exercise group was 66 and the age of the control group was 67.
The biggest change was improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) – not surprising. It was this improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness that was felt to be the key in the reduction of postoperative complications.
How Much Does HIIT Reduce Post-Op Complications?
In general, postoperative complications occur in about 30% of patients and up to 50% in frail patients who undergo all types of major surgeries lasting 2 hours or more.
The New Zealand study found that HIIT before surgery reduced post-op complications 56% and those trained patients stayed three fewer days in the hospital. Overall, the researchers found lower cardiac complications, fewer cases of pneumonia, and fewer postoperative bowel issues.
Exercise improves both cardiac and pulmonary function so reductions in heart complications and in pneumonia are not surprising. Also, exercise improves gut motility and that may the reason for fewer bowel issues postoperatively.
These findings are very encouraging. So even if you do not currently exercise and have an elective surgical procedure talk to your physician to see if high intensity interval training is safe for you. Though not studied in the New Zealand review, we suspect even low intensity to moderate intensity aerobic training will reduce post-op complications to some degree as well in the event that HIIT is not appropriate for you.
The point being, any exercise is likely to provide some benefit for those undergoing surgery. As has been said before, “exercise is medicine.”