Before you had your transplant you might have felt weak and tired and may have had to limit your physical activity. After transplant, many patients find that they have more energy and want to be active again.
People who receive a transplant can go on to live a very active life once they take care of their health. Check out this video of transplant teens from SickKids competing in the World Transplant Games.
One important way to develop a healthy lifestyle is to get at least some exercise every day. Health Canada recommends that all teenagers get 60 minutes of daily exercise. This can include aerobic exercises such as walking up stairs, running, cycling, or playing soccer (to get your heart and lungs working well) and some other, weight-bearing, exercises such as walking or lifting weights.
Top five reasons to exercise regularly when you have a transplant
- You will have more energy.
- You will have stronger muscles and bones.
- You will feel better about yourself, especially as you start to become fitter and better able to do your exercises.
- You will help to keep your weight in check, especially if you are on prednisone.
- You will live longer.
Remember, the best exercise is one that you will actually do!
If the thought of exercising for an hour a day puts you off, start by thinking of the type of exercise you are interested in. If you like walking, you might want to start by walking more, taking a longer route to school, or walking the dog in the evening.
Some people find it easier to be active by joining a class and exercising with other people. Others already have a type of exercise they enjoy such as swimming or tennis. Think about what you like doing so that exercise stays interesting!
If you decide to try a new activity, give it your best shot, but if you hate it after a few tries, it’s ok to try something else. You could make a rule that you can’t quit one thing until you decide what activity you will do instead and when you will start it. Remember, exercise is supposed to be fun!
How soon can I exercise after transplant?
You can do gentle aerobic exercise from about a week after you get your transplant. If you have intense pain or shortness of breath, stop exercising right away and get advice from your transplant team or family doctor.
For the first month after surgery, don’t lift anything heavier than a bag of milk. Your body is still recovering from the surgery for the first four to six weeks. Lifting, pushing, or pulling too much weight may tear your incision (the wound from your surgery).
Over time, build up your exercises gradually – don’t expect to reach your goals all at once. Always take time to warm up and cool down to prevent injury and listen to your body if you feel tired or sore.
If your medicines have caused your bones to become a lot weaker, you may need to stop or cut back on some activities to prevent injury. Speak to your transplant team or your physiotherapist if this applies to you.
Staying hydrated as you exercise
If you are exercising and sweating, you will be losing more fluid than normal through your skin. To reduce the risk of dehydration – hint, if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated! – drink more fluids during exercise than you would drink usually.
A useful guideline is at least 2 cups (500 mL) more than your usual amount. You may need to increase this if you are exercising vigorously or for long periods of time.
Goal setting and exercise
Whatever type of exercise you try, create some goals to keep you motivated. Talk to your transplant physiotherapist about setting goals for physical activity.
One way to help with goal setting is to use a pedometer. This is a device that you can wear on your arm or attach to your pants to count how many steps you take every day. A general recommendation is 10,000 steps. This sounds like a lot, but with regular physical activity this goal is often easier to reach than you think!
You might also find this goal-setting template useful, especially if you check off your goals as you achieve them.