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How “Prehab” Can Help to Shorten Surgery Recovery Time

By Sixty and Me December 17, 2019 Health and Fitness

Are you facing surgery and wondering how long you’ll be laid up doing rehab? If so, now is a great time to get started on a ”prehab” program instead!

Ask any athlete about the importance of following a training program before every competition. Preparing our non-athletic bodies to withstand the stress of major surgery is no different!

As the University of Michigan’s Professor of Surgery Dr. Michael Engelsbe explains:

“We’re finely tuned machines who do things throughout our day that maintain our normalness. When you have surgery, it’s essentially a huge reset on all of those things. Everything gets out of whack.”

But in a recent University of Michigan study, Dr. Engelsbe and his colleagues found that prehabbing can help prevent post-operating complications. It also leads to shorter hospital stays and recovery times.

The researchers compared the results of 523 surgical patients who did one week of prehab with those of 1,046 Medicare patients who didn’t. Both groups had an average age of 70 and underwent heart, chest or abdominal procedures at the same Michigan hospitals.

On average, the prehabbed patients were released one day sooner. And two-thirds of them got out on the day of their procedures, versus 57 percent of the Medicare group.

The results also showed that adequate prehab increased the chance of being sent directly home, not to a rehab facility. Home rehab often speeds recovery time.

So why ask not your doctor for some prehab recommendations? These are typical techniques based on the study’s protocols and findings:

Leg Strengthening

Before you’re released from the hospital or a rehab facility, you’ll need to show you can get to the bathroom unassisted. Begin a leg-strengthening program. To reduce the risk of blood clots, start walking at a comfortable pace for 20 to 30 minutes five days a week.

Build up your thighs by rising from a sitting to standing position. Start slowly and work your way up to 10 repetitions. You’ll find it much easier to get in and out of bed.

Deep Breathing for Stress Reduction

Being scheduled for surgery is almost guaranteed to raise your stress level. For natural stress management before and after your procedure, try deep breathing.

Stress floods your body with hormones that prepare you to fight or flee danger. Deep breathing, says Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine Research Director Esther Sternberg, is like “taking your foot off the gas.”

To practice it, inhale deeply and slowly through your nose to a count of four. Then exhale slowly through your mouth to a count of eight. Done for two minutes once or twice a day, it lowers your blood pressure and heart rate while increasing the alpha brain waves that help you relax.

Nutrient Loading

Like a long-distance runner loading up on muscle-fueling carbohydrates before competing, you’ll heal faster following surgery if you build up your nutrient reserves ahead of time.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Cordialis Msora-Kasago recommends lots of lean protein to maintain muscle mass while you’re laid up, along with fiber-rich fruits and veggies.

Dr. Clifford Ko, director of the American College of Surgeons’ research division, warns about anesthesia-related constipation. He also advises getting 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, through your diet if possible or with a supplement (followed by plenty of water) if necessary.

If you’re facing surgery, would you be interested in prehabbing? Do you think your doctor would encourage it? If you’ve already tried it, would you recommend it to someone else? Let’s have a conversation!

Disclaimer: None of the information in this article is intended to be medical advice. Please consult with a doctor before making any changes to your diet.

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Sixty and Me is a community of over 500,000 women over 60 founded by Margaret Manning. Our editorial team publishes articles on lifestyle topics including fashion, dating, retirement and money.

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