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Older and Getting Surgery? Get Fit Beforehand
  • Robert Preidt
  • Posted December 22, 2020

Older and Getting Surgery? Get Fit Beforehand

Getting fit before surgery can limit the amount of muscle older adults will lose during their recovery, researchers say.

Strength training before a scheduled operation ("prehabilitation") helps counteract muscle wasting during bed rest after a procedure. But it needs to be a long-term, targeted exercise program to be effective, according to the new report.

For the study, British researchers had a group of older adults lift weights four times over one week. But participants exercised one leg, and not the other.

Participants then rested in bed for five days, which is the duration of a typical hospital stay for an older patient after surgery.

The researchers expected that the exercised leg would have less muscle loss, but it was about the same in both legs.

Further analysis showed that five days of bed rest resulted in roughly the same amount of muscle wasting (3% to 4%) that older adults would typically lose over three to five years.

The findings suggest that longer-term strength training before surgery could reduce muscle loss while older patients are in the hospital.

"Although short-term prehabilitation offers a cost-effective and easy-to-implement strategy, it does not prevent muscle wasting among older adults undergoing bed rest," said study author Leigh Breen. "This muscle loss may be extremely hard to recover from and can lead to long-term health and disease complications."

Breen is a senior lecturer in the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.

Prehabilitation programs should include aerobic exercise as well as strength training to protect heart/lung health, along with a protein rich diet to boost muscle mass, the study authors recommended in a university news release.

In addition, the researchers said that hospitalized patients should try to get back on their feet as soon as possible after surgery -- if it's appropriate and safe -- and be provided with post-surgery exercise and dietary programs.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle.

More information

The American Society of Anesthesiologists has more on preparing for surgery.

SOURCE: University of Birmingham, news release, Dec. 20, 2020

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