It happens. Health stuff. Family stuff. Work stuff. Life stuff. Most of us will face changes or difficulties at some point resulting in consistent exercise falling down or completely off the priority list. For some, it’s forced rest due to surgery, injury, or a medical condition. For others, it’s a matter of planning or mindset due to changes in life circumstances. Whatever the reason, if you’ve found yourself without fitness on your priority list for months or years, this post is for you.
The doctor said, “You have healed well and you’re free to do what you want.“
It’s been over nine weeks since surgery. I've had very little physical activity during those weeks, not even walking, because I was instructed to restrict even that. The challenge now is building slowly while challenging my body appropriately.
Prior to surgery I was teaching up to seven Jazzercise classes per week and a lot of that was cardio. I was lifting moderately heavy weights. I've lost cardiovascular endurance and strength. Cardiovascular conditioning declines more quickly than muscular conditioning but both areas will require a re-building phase. No matter what fitness levels were prior to surgery, we all share several important considerations as we start to exercise post-hysterectomy.
The expectations don’t always match reality. The typical timeline given after a minimally invasive hysterectomy is to return to a sedentary job at around 4 weeks and resume normal activities/return to non-sedentary job at 6 to 8 weeks. It’s natural to assume that healing is complete at the six to eight-week mark and that life will resume as before surgery. However, six (or eight) isn’t a magic number. It’s simply the amount of time that it takes for the incisions to be mostly healed. Tissues are still healing for months afterwards and they are not as strong and resilient as they once were. Any complications during early recovery can also prolong healing.
This timeframe after surgery can be nearly as challenging as early recovery. Some women take on normal life activities at this point without ill effects while others cannot. It is difficult if you fall into the latter category. Then, once restrictions are lifted, suddenly, you are bearing the weight of partner and family expectations, work obligations and the pressure to “get back to normal”. How do you navigate these expectations and continue to care for your still-healing body?
If you are a woman in the United States, you’ve either had a hysterectomy, will have one or know someone who has. I joined thousands of other women on November 26th when I underwent a hysterectomy (uterus/cervix removal) due to suspected adenomyosis and other issues. A salpingectomy (surgical removal of fallopian tubes), single oophorectomy (removal of one ovary) and endometriosis removal was also performed.
Hysterectomy is so commonplace in the U.S., and now that it can be performed on an outpatient basis, the seriousness and full recovery time is often downplayed. You will hear about women returning to work 2 weeks after surgery. You will hear stories of little to no pain or complications. It’s truth for those women. You will also hear about women who were couch-bound for weeks, as well as women who had to go back in for revision surgery due to complications. No surgery and no recovery is going to be exactly the same. Even if you have a complication-free surgery and are fit going into it, a smooth recovery is not guaranteed. It doesn’t mean that those who have a bumpy recovery did anything wrong. My surgeon told me that I’d start to feel awesome after just a few days. Well, it’s been just over two weeks and I am only now starting to feel anything resembling “awesome”…and that’s only immediately upon getting up in the morning.
As you know, I work with women as a personal trainer/coach. One in three will have a hysterectomy by age 60. For that reason, I’m sharing my experience.
When we share our stories, what it does is, it opens up our hearts for other people to share their stories. And it gives us the sense that we are not alone on this journey.” - Janine Shepherd