Exercise and nutrition are key to not just your overall health, but also recovery from surgery specifically. Here are our top tips for using food and exercise to promote seniors recovering from surgery, from understanding dietary restrictions to walking regularly.
Know if you will have any dietary restrictions.
Before the procedure, talk with your doctor if there are foods or beverages that you will need to avoid after the surgery. Alcohol is a common no-no, but there may be others, especially if you are getting a gastrointestinal procedure done. Also ask about surgery side effects, such as nausea and light-headedness, that may make it difficult to keep food down after the procedure. Ask your doctor for recommendations about what to eat at various points in your recovery and make sure that you have some loose post-surgery clothes that won’t put pressure on your stomach.
Prepare food ahead of time
Don’t expect yourself to prepare food after your surgery. It will probably take all your energy just to eat a little bit of food. Before the procedure, talk with your caretaker about what meals you will be able to eat and go grocery shopping in advance. Consider making some food a day ahead and putting it in the freezer so that it will be ready to reheat as soon as you get home. If your recovery will be longer than a few days, try coordinating a meal train with family and friends so that you will have a steady supply of food without having to cook.
Get your nutrients through food
Supplements and vitamins are great to seniors recovering from surgery, but they are no substitute for a healthy and nutritious diet. Stop or limit your consumption of processed and packaged foods as well as foods high in sugar, sodium and unhealthy fats. These all contribute to inflammation and slow down the healing process. Instead, prioritize foods such as lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, which will give your body the nutrients and energy it needs to recover.
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Try varying portions and frequency
Especially in the days right after surgery, your stomach might not be able to handle full meals without causing you discomfort and pain. If that is the case for you, try eating smaller portions more frequently and snacking often if you get hungry between meals. If you cannot eat a full-size meal, then prioritize higher calorie foods that are high in protein so you are getting more calories for the volume. This will help seniors recovering from surgery and keep energy up while they recover, even if you cannot stomach a full meal.
Stay hydrated always
When you’re at the hospital, you don’t have to worry about hydration because they’ll give you an IV drip. But once you go home, you need to make a point to drink lots of water. Take small but frequent sips throughout the day to avoid overloading your stomach. If drinking out of a glass or bottle is too hard, try a tumbler with a straw to encourage yourself to drink more often. You might also find it beneficial to add an electrolyte powder or supplement to your water to help replenish your body after surgery.
Start walking the day after
For almost all surgeries, your doctor will recommend taking a walk at least twice a day once 24 hours after surgery have elapsed. (And they may recommend even more walking in certain cases.) The reason for moving around so soon after surgery is that it lowers your risk of blood clots and other post-surgical complications, which can be severe and even fatal. It will also help you get your strength back faster and encourage a post-surgery bowel movement. Follow your doctor’s instructions for how long and how often you should be walking. Be careful not to put too much strain on the surgical site as you move around and wear shoes for swollen feet to help you stay steady and prevent falls.
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Follow your physical therapy schedule
Many surgical procedures require some kind of physical therapy or rehabilitation for complete recovery. While you might be tempted to skip physical therapy, it is essential for getting your full range of motion back. Stick to your physical therapy and make sure that you are also following any at-home exercises that they tell you to do. Stay with it for a few months, and you’ll be feeling better in no time. If you find it difficult to don your regular exercise clothes for therapy, look for alternatives such as pull-on pants with elastic waistbands and front closure bras for seniors.
Ask your surgeon for exercise advice
At some point, you will be able to return to your regular physical activity, but that may take some time. Talk to your surgeon about your recovery progress and when you can start exercising like normal once again. They will probably recommend that you start off with light, low impact exercises and slowly build your strength and stamina up from there. Don’t try to push yourself too much too soon, which can cause a serious setback and prolong your recovery indefinitely. If you feel any sudden pain or weakness while exercising, stop immediately and report your symptoms to your doctor.
Follow your breathing exercises
One thing that you might not be prepared for after surgery is the effect it can have on your breathing. Many surgeries that are performed under general anesthesia require a tracheal tube attached to a ventilator to be inserted in order to ensure your airways stay functional. This is why many people find it hard to talk, breathe and cough after surgery. Your surgeon may recommend that you do breathing exercises in order to help strengthen your lungs and throat after anesthesia and to get your cardiovascular system back in shape for regular exercise.
Follow these tips to use nutrition and exercise to feel better after surgery and resume your regular life faster.