Exercise Guidelines for Transplant Patients

“When I was in the operating room before my liver transplant surgery, my team of doctors told me that I was quite healthy except for being in liver failure,” says liver recipient Debbie Pinjuv.  “It seemed like an odd statement to me then, but now I understand what my doctors were saying.  My other organs were still functioning, and I didn’t have a lot of additional medical problems.  The thing that kept me strong and helped me survive the seven year wait on the UNOS National Transplant List was the exercise I did throughout my illness.”


Transplant Doctors Encourage Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is necessary for transplant patients to become as healthy and physically fit as possible. Many studies have shown that exercising as soon as a few weeks after transplant surgery can improve cardiopulmonary function, as well as counteract some of the side effects of the immunosuppressive medications.  Physical activity has also been shown to improve a patient’s overall quality of life and long-term outcome.

After transplant surgery, patients are encouraged to get physically active as soon as they are able to get out of bed.

“All of us start with small steps, walking around the hospital corridors with I.V. poles dragging behind us,” recalls Debbie. “For me, this was an amazing feeling:  before my transplant I barely had the strength to walk; three days after receiving my new liver, I was outrunning everyone in my path!”

Generally, exercise programs for transplant patients are the same as for other patients who have undergone major surgery. However, transplant patients must always be aware of their suppressed immune system, taking extra precautions to protect themselves whenever possible.


Exercise Tips for Organ Transplant Patients

  • Always check with your transplant team before returning or starting any sports or physical fitness program.
  • Start slowly and increase your activity gradually. Start at 10 minutes per day, with a goal of 30 or more minutes per workout, 3 – 5 days per week.
  • Try resistance or weight training to regain muscle function and strength. Start with simple exercises like climbing stairs or doing push-ups against the wall.
  • Engage in aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, or hiking to help control weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  • Use sunscreen, a hat and protective clothing when exercising outside.  (A patient’s anti-rejection drugs can cause sun sensitivity and an increased risk of skin cancer.)
  • When working out at a health club, clean the gym equipment with disinfectant wipes before using them.  (The viruses and bacteria on those surfaces can live for two hours or longer. The flu virus can last up to eight hours!)
  • Wear flip flops in the health club showers and locker rooms to protect your feet from any contagious fungi, viruses and bacteria.
  • Bring your own yoga mat to class instead of sharing the communal mats to guard against the germs left by the previous person. Wipe down your yoga mat with disinfectant wipes after each workout.  Bring your own towel to lay over the yoga blankets used during poses.
  • Check with your doctors before swimming.  Using chlorinated pools is usually permitted after a patient’s surgical incision has healed.
  • Listen to your body. Stop exercising and contact your physician immediately if you experience chest pain, labored breathing or extreme fatigue.

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