Harvard Women's Health Watch

Would having stronger core muscles speed my recovery from abdominal surgery?

Ask the doctor


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Q. I'm going to have surgery for a large ovarian cyst in two months. I'm generally healthy but a little out of shape. Would I recover faster if I strengthened my abdominal muscles before the operation?

A. Getting in shape and strengthening your abdominal muscles before surgery is always a great idea. Several factors influence how well people do following surgery. Three major factors—older age, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—have been linked to longer recovery periods. Alternatively, fitness enables a speedier recovery. A 2013 report in the journal Anesthesia found that general fitness—measured by walking speed, ability to rise from a sitting position, the ability of the lungs to expel air, and grip strength—was related to improved postsurgical recovery time in 175 people ages 60 or older who underwent abdominal surgery. Regardless of age and other chronic conditions, people who got more exercise and had stronger abdominal muscles spent less time in the hospital compared with their sedentary, less-fit counterparts.

You can make quite a bit of progress in the next two months. Try doing at least 30 minutes of brisk walking most days. Yoga and core exercises are great ways to strengthen your abdominal muscles. If you are new to these exercises, you may want to enroll in a program at a YMCA or fitness center.

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