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Fitness Program Designed Especially for Bariatric Patients

Armen Hareyan's picture


University of Colorado Hospital patients who undergo laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery and other weight-loss procedures can now incorporate a unique fitness program into their healthier, post-operation lives. The hospital's new Surgical Weight Loss Center recently unveiled a comprehensive fitness regimen created especially for bariatric patients who want to embrace the long-term benefits of a more active lifestyle.

Launched in June, the program is one of a handful nationwide designed specifically for patients who undergo surgical weight-loss procedures to treat obesity. Patients who sign up for the program will follow a balanced diet and set personal weight loss and fitness goals through weight training, aerobics and other physical activities, said Chad Kittles, a licensed physical therapist and supervisor who designed the fitness program. A physician's assistant, a nutritionist and other staff will work one-on-one with clients to set realistic goals following their surgeries.

"A lot of people aren't going to feel comfortable going to a community gym immediately after their surgery," Kittles noted. "They may have insecurities with their body image initially, until they begin to lose weight."

While surgical weight-loss procedures have garnered a lot of public attention in recent years, little has been reported about the special post-operation fitness needs of patients whose bodies are undergoing dramatic physical changes. Experts believe that patients who follow recommended fitness and diet guidelines after bariatric surgeries are more likely to meet their weight-loss goals, avoid relapse and firm up their bodies, potentially lessening the need for further surgical procedures.

For many bariatric patients, the Surgical Weight Loss Center's voluntary fitness program will be an introduction to the merits of regular physical activity. To help them meet their goals, the center's new gym has been outfitted with elliptical trainers, treadmills, recumbent bicycles, weight-training machines and other equipment. Future group exercise sessions will likely include Pilates, yoga, and step aerobics.

For now, the facility is offering fitness classes on a limited schedule. Days and hours will be expanded as demand increases. Patients will pay $30 for an initial health screening by a licensed physical therapist, and the cost of gym sessions will vary from $3 to $5 per visit, depending on how many visits a client signs up for. The more sessions patients sign up for, the more affordable they become.

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During initial screening, physical therapists will determine whether clients have any pre-existing, obesity-related health concerns, including heart ailments, joint and back pain, and high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Kittles had little research to rely on while designing the center's fitness program so much of his plan is based on instinct, common sense, and years of training.

"Being overweight puts stress on your heart and joints," Kittles said. "The input of licensed physical therapists who have knowledge of more than just fitness - who have knowledge of joints and the body's cardiovascular system - is what separates us from other fitness programs not specifically geared toward bariatric patients."

Most patients will start out with five minutes of low-impact aerobic activity such as walking and recumbent cycling and work toward a goal of 30-45 minutes to increase cardiovascular fitness. The goal will be to burn fat without putting a lot of undue stress on clients' hearts and joints. Under Kittles' guidance, clients will complete two to three sets of 12-20 repetitions with lighter weights to promote weight loss and improve tone, shifting to heavier weights, depending on individual needs.

"I've done a lot of research and have not found any specific parameters, so I am using my own preference for prescribing repetitions, sets, and percentage of heart rate for each individual's needs," he said.

Over the past year, the University of Colorado Hospital Surgical Weight Loss Center has performed 100 weight-loss surgeries. The center's goal is to perform 125 surgeries per year.

Though the fitness program will be optional for his patients, Dr. Jonathan Schoen, chief surgeon and director of the center, is a strong advocate of the benefits of physical activities to improve cardiovascular fitness and overall muscle tone.

"Having a one-stop shop will enable our patients to undergo surgery, receive follow-up treatment, and sign up for fitness classes - all under the same roof," he said.

University of Colorado Hospital is the Rocky Mountain region's only academic tertiary care and referral center.