Importance of Exercise

As a transplant recipient, you are faced with the usual human challenges of everyday life, but you have additional considerations given the unique impact that your immune suppression drugs have on you.

Immunosuppressant medications are a vital part of your new post-transplant life, however, these come with side effects and some are more severe than others.  This may put you at a higher risk of developing obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, cardiovascular disease as well as a decrease in normal muscle function.

Quality of life has become a major issue for recipients following their transplant surgery not only physically but also mentally.  A large percentage of recipients battle with various physiological ailments such as guilt, depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that an increase in physical activity not only increases physical but actively assists in the improvement of the recipient’s mental health.

Regular physical activity and healthy eating is universally recommended for all adults and children of the general public and yet these recommendations are not as commonly advised or explained to the transplant community even though the benefits of making these lifestyle choices are critically important.

Benefits of an increase in physical activity for a transplant recipient both physically and mentally include:

  • Increased whole body strength

  • Improved energy levels

  • Helps control body weight

  • Decrease in proportion of body fat

  • Increase in heart and lung performance

  • Reduces overall risk of cardiovascular disease

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Reduces risk of developing diabetes and assists in glucose management in those with diabetes

  • Improved circulation

  • Decrease in cholesterol levels

  • Increase in bone density / strength and balance

  • Increased muscle mass, muscle strength & muscle endurance, and joint flexibility

  • Improved aerobic capacity

  • Faster recovery post-surgery

  • Enhances your mental sharpness

  • Reduced stress, tension, anxiety and depression

  • Improved sleep

  • Helps motivate you to improve your lifestyle

  • Helps in rebuilding your social life and relationships

  • Improves emotional wellbeing and self-perception

  • Improves your sex life

Getting started is often the hardest part – a question I am so fond of,

“How do you eat an elephant?”

Simply, one bite at a time.

Your journey, whether it be due to a long wait to receive your organ or recovering from transplant surgery, will most likely begin with you being quite physically delicate.  You haven’t exercised in some time and now you don’t know where to start.  Studies have shown that it is important to start exercising within the first year of your transplant. Wherever you are at in your journey, it is never too late to start getting active.

Below are our recommended “getting started” guidelines:

The first thing to do is get the all clear from your Health Care Professional. They will undertake a basic test to evaluate your current fitness level and condition.

It is important to set goals for yourself when starting a program. So, start thinking about your individual goals and plan a routine that will help you facilitate achieving those goals.  Be sure your goals are realistic and achievable.

To increase endurance and strength, starting with a low-level walking/calisthenics program and progressing to moderate level exercise might be best.

Exercise and getting fit does not have to be expensive and does not require joining an exercise facility.  The time and place that is most convenient to you for exercise will result in successful participation.  Independent exercise at home is ideal for some but may require significant internal motivation and support from others to stay committed.  Many people prefer to join a gym where they have a financial obligation as well as the benefit of social interaction and support at the gym.  However, others who are just starting out or who have never exercised may be intimidated by a gym setting.  Carefully consider what is best for YOU and what setting will encourage you to participate regularly.

We all need support when adopting an exercise program.  You should develop a schedule for how you will incorporate your exercise into your regular routine.  The following can be used for motivation and encouragement and may help you to stick with your program.

  • Enlist family or friends (or a dog) to exercise with.
  • Ask a friend or family member to check in on your exercise regularly (i.e. weekly) so you are accountable to someone.
  • Buy an activity monitor or fitness tracker (i.e. Fitbit®, pedometer) to help monitor your exercise and keep track of your progress.
  • Sign up with a personal trainer who can get you started, then maybe touch base with that person regularly to assess your program, get feedback, encouragement and recommendations on how to progress.

After a while, you may not need as much encouragement, because you will have created a routine and if you have to skip an exercise session, your body will miss it and let you know!

Be realistic in your goals

  • Listen to your body: We all have good and bad days. If your exercise session on a given day does not feel comfortable, decrease the duration and/or intensity or take the day off and try again the next day. Adjust your sessions according to your feeling and needs.
  • Start SLOWLY!
  • Progress GRADUALLY: This will assure adequate adaptation to increasing levels of exercise. Problems with exercise typically result when people do too much too soon, or progress their exercise too quickly, not allowing their muscles, heart and circulatory systems to adequately adapt to the exercise.
  • You should NOT feel pain. You may feel discomfort or soreness in muscles that have not been used recently, but that should not prevent you from exercising the next day.
  • Exercise should enhance your energy, not cause fatigue. If you are exhausted after your exercise session, you may need to reduce the intensity or duration the next day.
  • Set aside time each day specifically for your exercise.
  • If your exercise is interrupted for any reason, get back to it as soon as possible, and start slowly and progress back to your previous levels gradually.

Register for free to gain access to the Refit for Life! Program designed to help you move right, think right and eat right.