Preparing for surgery

It’s normal to feel a little anxious before an operation. One of the best things you can do to improve your peace of mind and be sure that it all goes smoothly, is make sure that you are in as good a health as possible beforehand. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training first and preparing for surgery is no different. Surgery can take a huge toll on your body, but the fitter you are before you go in, the quicker you will recover and be back to your old self.

Simple advice on what to do if you're expecting surgery can be downloaded here.

Exercise

Getting fitter is always a good plan, but in the run up to surgery it can make a huge difference. The healthier your heart and lungs are before the surgery, the safer it will be and the quicker you will recover.

Just going for gentle walks or runs can help you to build up the stamina you need, or if you speak to your GP they may be able to help you with a gym membership. If you struggle to motivate yourself, there are lots of groups out there that can help:

  • Walking For Health is a sociable, volunteer-led group that caters to all abilities and is especially good at getting people back into exercise who maybe haven’t done any in a while.
  • Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s Be Physically Active initiative offers a wide range of free and cut-price activities – including free swimming for the over 55s.
  • Connect to Support Hampshire can put you in contact with all kinds of local activities and exercise groups.

You can also try the NHS’s successful Couch to 5k programme – a nine week plan to get you up and running, even for a very beginner.

Diet

Not only will eating a healthy diet help you to get fit and recover quicker after your surgery, people who are a healthy weight also have a reduced risk of blood clots and wound infections afterwards. In addition, the more overweight you are, the more stress there will be on your heart and lungs during the process. Even if you are already a healthy weight, making sure that you eat well and are as healthy as possible beforehand can make a big difference.

If being in a healthy weight range seems a long way off, it can be easy to think that there is no point trying to lose weight before your surgery. But even losing a little can make a big difference to how your operation goes and how quickly you could feel well again afterwards. Every little counts.

There are lots of diets out there and your GP can discuss with you which one might be best for you. They may be able to refer you to weight loss groups like Slimming World and Weight Watchers free of charge. You can also download the NHS weight loss plan – a free, twelve week course to help you lose weight safely and sustainably.

Lots of people find that weight loss apps help them to stay on track and keep motivated. There are lots out there, with popular ones like My Fitness Pal and Lose It allowing you to easily record all of your food and drink so you can keep track of your calories.

Alcohol

Alcohol is extremely high in calories, so drinking a lot will make it much harder to reach or maintain a healthy weight. In addition to this though, alcohol can reduce the liver’s ability to produce the building blocks necessary for healing, which will slow your recovery after surgery.

Visit the Drink Aware website for help cutting down.

Smoking

That smoking is bad for you is not new news, but you may not know that cutting down or reducing the amount you smoke before having surgery can reduce the amount of time you need to stay in hospital after an operation, and speed up your healing process. Try to view your surgery as a good turning point to quit for good.

There is so much help out there for you if you want to stop smoking. Check out the NHS stop smoking services to find out more, or visit Smoke Free.

Other medical problems

You may have other long term medical problems that you have been managing, like issues with blood pressure, heart or lung problems, or anaemia. In the run up to surgery it is important that these are appropriately controlled. Talk to your GP or nurse if you feel that you could benefit from any extra help managing your condition. You can also book in for a general health check at your surgery if you’re over 40.

If you’re diabetic, making sure you have good control of your blood sugar before an operation is really important. People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing infections, as higher blood sugar levels can weaken your immune system defences. If your local GP practice has a diabetic nurse specialist, arrange to see them to make sure your diabetes is well controlled early on.

Anxiety and mental health

It’s natural to feel anxious in the run up to a surgical procedure, but sometimes the burden of being unwell can lead to low mood, depression and anxiety disorders. Being prepared mentally is as important as being prepared physically. Sometimes talking to someone is all that may be needed to help you overcome what you are feeling, and family and friends can play a big part. If you have a support network around you, try to involve them and don’t be afraid to ask for their help. If you feel you may need additional help with your mental health contact your GP, or visit one of our mental health directories of services for local groups and support: