I am 67 and have had a quadruple heart bypass and valve replacement. For the past four months I have been going to the gym two or three times a week and although I feel fitter, I cannot lose weight (I am 16st). I got rid of my car and do much more walking now, but still cannot shift this weight. Can you advise me?
Your frustration at not being able to shed weight is understandable. I think you may be being a bit hard on yourself, though. Even if you were unaware of it, you were probably losing fitness, gaining weight and reducing your activity levels for a year or two – possibly much longer — before the moment of truth that led to your heart operations. That slow decline cannot be turned around overnight.
Then there’s the effects of the operations. Major heart surgery is, quite simply, exhausting. The anaesthetic alone can leave you drained of energy for months – more so if you are overweight. Plus, your body is trying to knit back together all the wounds, and get used to the various drugs you’ll now be on.
These days the NHS has a good support system for cardiac patients after surgery, with a strong and positive emphasis on getting up, getting moving and getting into good habits as soon as possible. With all this encouragement it is easy to forget that you are almost certainly starting out from a very low level of fitness and activity, and your body can only rebuild slowly.
To lose weight you need to be active enough every day to burn about 500 calories more than you eat. If your fitness level doesn’t yet allow you to do that much activity, you will not lose the weight, even though you are still doing essential work improving your fitness and rebuilding your body.
Your gym sessions and walking are all excellent activities. Make sure your programme includes weight training as well as cardio-vascular work (more muscle burns a lot more calories). Make sure the gym staff update your programme every six weeks to keep pushing you on.
As your energy levels increase, add in some activity on the non-gym days: swim, borrow a dog for long walks, jog gently round the park, sign up for cycle rides, line dancing, tea dancing or dry stone-walling. It really doesn’t matter so much what you are doing as the fact that you are keeping on the move every day, gradually stepping up your overall amount of activity. But always listen to your body and expect this process to build over many months, rather than weeks.
Finally, check your eating habits. Even if you are following all the healthy eating guidelines, it’s very common to allow yourself “rewards” once you get into a regular exercise routine. If you can identify a single item (eg daily sweet or biscuit snack, sugar in tea, glass of wine) that you could eliminate, it might tip the calorific balance in your favour. Be patient and consistent, and you will shed the weight.