Research Finds This One Simple Habit Shift Before Surgery Can Help With Recovery

Anna Garrison - Author

Oct. 23 2023, Published 4:14 p.m. ET

Person using a cane to walk
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The Gist:

  • On Oct. 20, 2023, research findings presented to the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Clinical Congress 2023 found that exercising pre-surgery can help reduce complications post-surgery.
  • The study's results also encouraged doctors to utilize data from FitBits or other electronic health devices to plan post-surgery care for patients.
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Getting the right amount of exercise for your life can seem difficult, with things like work and other obligations getting in the way. Even the thought of exercise might seem unwelcome if you're dealing with chronic pain.

As it turns out, a new study from October 2023 suggests that, especially before a big surgery, you might want to get your steps in — here's what to know.

Person after knee surgery using a walker to walk.
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A study suggests that more walking before surgery can reduce complications post-surgery.

On Oct. 20, 2023, research findings presented to the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Clinical Congress 2023 revealed that patients who walked more before surgery had 51 percent reduced odds for post-operation complications, per Medical News.

Additionally, the study revealed at least 30 percent of patients have postoperative complications, and nearly half of the 30 percent occur after the patient has left the hospital.

Carson Gehl, a second-year medical student with the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and the study's lead author, encourages doctors to have their patients wear FitBits or other health tracking devices to potentially inform "perioperative care" or post-operation care by tracking how active patients are before their surgeries.

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Girl walks down hallway on crutches with broken foot holding teddy bear.
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The study itself analyzed 475 people who were participating in the All for Us Research Program, which focuses on the relationship between lifestyle, biology, and environment. The study measured health data based on participants who wore a "Fitbit like" watch to explore the relationship between physical activity and 90-day post-op complications.

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The study found that the odds of experiencing a complication within 30 days following surgery were 45 percent less likely if the participant took more than 7,500 steps per day before surgery. Additionally, the study determined that if patient data showed they took more than 7,500 steps daily, they were 51 percent less likely to have a complication!

Doctor examines patient's leg
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"If we find people who are at high risk, using these Fitbit tools, we could monitor them more closely following their procedure because that allows us to catch problems before they progress beyond control," Gehl explained.

"Another goal of our research is to modify physical activity in the preoperative period and improve postoperative outcomes. We need more studies and evidence to answer that question."

While Fitbits or devices such as Apple Watches can be expensive, keeping track of your health through some kind of app might lead to a better future for your body. Why not try to get in your 7,500 steps by hiking in nature?

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