My first son was born in 2001, and though I exercised regularly prior to my pregnancy, I mistakenly thought that I should not exercise while I was pregnant. No aerobic nor resistance training did this body experience at any time while I was with child. Other than taking an occasional walk around the block with my dog, I did nothing that would cause me to break a sweat. Son number deux was born two years later and again, I fell off the fitness wagon. I wish I had been better informed about the effects of fitness on recovery, because I might have had a speedier recuperation after each of their births. They were both fairly large babies (8 lbs 5 oz and 8 lbs 6 oz respectively) and my lady parts tore during their deliveries (sorry guys). It took a while before even just walking felt comfortable again and it seemed like I had to sit on that doughnut shaped pillow for an eternity after they were born!
Since my two little munchkins (not so little anymore) came into this world, researchers have learned much about the relationship between wound healing and exercise. Various studies indicate that exercise has a positive impact on wound healing. According to the Journal of American Society of Nephrology, exercise is proven to boost immune function. A healthy immune system helps to reduce the risk of infection, thereby promoting healing. Researchers in a study done by the University of Illinois also found that exercise causes increased blood flow throughout the body, which reduces hypoxia (low oxygen conditions) in wounds and prompts immune cell activity. In addition, exercise creates anti-inflammatory effects within the body (essentially the production of small proteins that aid in muscle recovery and repair). When there is hypoxia and excessive inflammation associated with a wound, the thought is that healing is slowed. Therefore, if exercise increases oxygen conditions in a wound and reduces the body’s inflammatory response, faster healing of that wound may be expected.
I unknowingly put this science to the test years later when I had to have emergency abdominal surgery. Endometriosis had grown onto my small intestines and caused them to kink and become blocked (anyone who has ever had any kind of bowel obstruction can attest to how painful it is). I was rushed to the hospital where I kept the medical staff company for 9 days. I had to have a section of my intestines removed along with my ovaries (which produce the hormones that inflame endometriosis). The surgeon also took out my appendix for good measure (you know, since he was puttering around in my belly anyway). After having been carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey, I fully expected my recovery to be a difficult and long process, but I was quite surprised. I exercised regularly and was in good physical shape at the time of my surgery and not so coincidentally, I found that afterward I was able to get up and about with less pain in a shorter period of time than I had expected.
Many medical practitioners believe wholeheartedly in the benefits of preoperative exercise. In fact, in the Current Opinion in Anaesthesiology 2014 Apr 27 (2), it is recommended that perioperative (before, during, and after surgery) exercise training protocol (aka ‘Better in, Better out’) could be implemented in clinical care for vulnerable patients scheduled for major elective surgery. I attribute my speedy recovery to my positive level of physical fitness going into my surgery and the fact that I could resume exercising soon thereafter.
At the time, I didn’t know all of the scientific or medical reasons behind why I healed more quickly. I just knew that I felt better faster and I was able to get my life back sooner. This experience was one of the main reasons that I became a personal trainer. I wanted to help people become fit so that if one of life’s hardships arose, such as an injury or an operation, they could come out on the other side in a better place. Of course, consult your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen to determine if it is safe for you.