surgery outcomes
surgery outcomes

How Lifestyle Changes Can Improve Your Surgery Outcomes

Posted on April 21, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff
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Recovering from surgery—no matter what kind of operation you have—is never easy. Even minor procedures can sap your body of essential energy and weaken your immune system. And during the time immediately after surgery, your body needs all the resources it can muster to help speed healing.

“We’re learning that healthy lifestyle changes—including proper nutrition and stopping smoking—can play an important role in surgery outcomes,” says Allegra Picano, RDN, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford Health.

How Surgery Affects Your Body

Surgery takes a toll on your body. The stress of an operation can leave you fatigued and weaken your immune system at a time when you most need to stay healthy. A robust immune system is important post-surgery, not only to fight off infection but also to help speed wound healing.

While you’re recovering from surgery, you’ll undoubtedly be less active than you normally are. “Being less mobile—even for just a few days or weeks—can result in losing some muscle mass,” says Picano. Reduced muscle mass can lower your metabolism and leave you feeling weak.

Best Foods To Eat Before (And After) Surgery

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Focusing on a healthy diet in the weeks leading up to surgery can help you feel better faster post-surgery, bolster your immune system and speed healing.

“The weeks before surgery are a really good time to increase your protein intake,” says Picano. “Getting more protein in your diet will help you build more muscle mass and retain it, even if you’re less active post-surgery.” She recommends healthy sources such as low-fat animal proteins (fish, poultry, low-fat dairy) and plant proteins (beans, legumes, nuts).

Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is also essential. Getting a rainbow of different colored produce in your diet helps guarantee that you’re consuming a broad range of antioxidant vitamins and other important nutrients. These work to keep your immune system strong and promote healing. “We also know that the fiber in fruits, vegetables and whole grains helps improve your gut health, and that is linked to better immune function,” says Picano.

Finally, be sure to consume enough calories, especially after surgery. “You may not feel as much like eating, but even though you’re less active, your body is under stress, and that increases your caloric needs,” says Picano.

What To Cut Out Of Your Diet

Drinking alcohol can not only weaken your immune system but also can prevent blood clotting. “It’s important to avoid alcohol a few weeks before and after surgery to make sure nothing interferes with crucial blood clotting,” says Picano.

She also recommends limiting caffeine intake in the days after surgery because it can act as a diuretic. “Maintaining adequate fluid status is essential for wound healing. You need to stay hydrated,” she says. Drinking plenty of water—while limiting caffeine and alcohol—helps you maintain proper hydration.

Certain herbs, supplements and medications can thin your blood and should be avoided before and after surgery. Be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements or medications you take and ask whether you need to stop taking them before your operation.

Why It’s Important To Stop Smoking Before Surgery

If you smoke, quitting before surgery is the number one thing you can do to improve your surgery outcome. People who smoke are more likely to experience complications after an operation—especially if they had general anesthesia. Smokers’ hearts and lungs don’t function as efficiently, increasing the risk of blood clots, respiratory infections, breathing problems and even heart attacks after surgery.

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, you should consider quitting at least one week prior to a scheduled surgery. The longer your heart and lungs have to heal, the better they’ll be able to handle the stresses of surgery. But stopping smoking even one day before your operation can help improve your outcomes. As soon as you quit, the levels of nicotine and carbon monoxide in your body drop, which helps increase blood flow. Better blood flow helps speed healing.


Reviewed by Allegra Picano, a registered dietitian nutritionist for the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

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