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Pre-Op Exercise Speeds Recovery

High-Intensity Training Cuts Complications

preoperative high-intensity workouts speeds recovery

By John Salak –

Getting over an operation can be a pretty daunting experience. The exact amount of recovery time and effort depends on the surgery involved. But regardless of the procedure, it is easy to screw up the healing process, which lots of people manage to do.

Do too much too soon, for example, and there can be problems. Failure to get rest, forgetting to take medications, skipping prescribed therapy sessions and eating poorly can all lead to setbacks. WebMD.com even warns that simply staying in bed too long can have disastrous consequences like blood clots, ulcers, embolisms and muscle deterioration.

It is essential to follow a post-op recovery plan. But new research also indicates that what someone does before an operation is pretty critical to their recovery as well. The University of Otago reports that engaging in short, preoperative high-intensity workouts can substantially ease healing.

The New Zealand-based researchers analyzed 12 studies that covered 832 patients with an average age of more than 65, who had undertaken preoperative high-intensity interval training (HIIT). These patients were all scheduled for major procedures such as liver, lung, colorectal, urologic and mixed major abdominal surgeries that lasted more than two hours or had significant anticipated blood loss.

The training covered repeated high-intensity aerobics at about 80 percent of the maximum heart rate followed by active recovery. The impact was profound.

“We have found that high-intensity interval training is safe and effective for surgical patients,” lead Dr Kari Clifford reported. “A HIIT program can meaningfully improve a patient’s fitness within four to six weeks, and this reduces postoperative complications and length of stay.”

The training had the biggest impact on cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), which measures how well the body takes in oxygen and delivers it to the muscles and organs during prolonged periods of exercise.

“The pooled results suggest that HIIT increases cardiorespiratory fitness by 2.39 ml/min/kg. This is not only significantly different than standard surgical care but is also clinically relevant: we know that this level of increase is associated with a lower risk of adverse postoperative outcomes,” Clifford added.

Postoperative complications are significant in all patients, affecting about 30 percent. But they are particularly high for frail patients, coming in at about 50 percent. Those who engaged in pre-op HIIT, however, sharply cut those complications, especially involving cardiac problems, pneumonia and postoperative bowel issues.

“Our study’s pooled results showed that HIIT reduces the risk of having a complication by 56 percent, which is substantial; and on average they stayed for three fewer days in hospital,” she said. “All of these findings suggest that a period—even as brief as four weeks—of pre-surgery high-intensity interval training may substantially improve patient outcomes and bring with it robust benefits across patient populations.”

The research may be significant, but the university’s team acknowledges that finding a way to implement HIIT programs for mature pre-operative patients could be tricky.

“Supervised exercise programs can be expensive, so we are looking at how effective it is to support people training at home or in the community,” Clifford explained. “However, funding these programs may save money in the long term by reducing the cost of hospital stays and surgical complications.”

In the meantime, even without formal pre-op HIIT programs in place, the research team stressed that improving fitness, in general, is a great way to potentially avoid medical problems and better deal with recovery times if operations are necessary.





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