Eight tips to help recovery after an illness or operation

Some simple tips to help you get back on track and recover after surgery or illness.



If you've been ill or had an operation, you're probably raring to get back on your feet. 

"Provided you are generally fit and well, there's no reason why you shouldn’t bounce back," says Dr Hazel Heath, Chair of the Royal College of Nursing Older People’s Forum.

"But if you’ve had a complicated illness or surgery, or have more than one condition, recovery can be complex and take longer."

Be patient and look after yourself, and you’ll soon be up and about.

"It's a good idea to have a daily plan for eating and drinking, activity and rest," Dr Heath advises. "You also need to understand when and how to take your medications. If you are unsure, ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Write things down if you're on a complicated regime."

Here are some ideas to help you or your loved ones get back on track:

1. Be prepared

If you are having a planned operation or procedure, recuperation starts beforehand by ensuring you are as fit and well as possible.

Stay up-to-date with dental and other health checks, and put plans in place for when you leave hospital. List the food you may need and stock up your freezer. A pre-op nurse may be able to help you to plan.

Read our tips for preparing for surgery.

2. Get up, stand up

After an illness or op, generally, it’s best to get up and about as soon as you can. 

"Moving stimulates breathing and circulation, and maintains muscle strength. It can help you to avoid problems such as deep vein thrombosis or skin damage," explains Dr Heath.

Your healthcare team can advise on the best ways to lie, stand, sit and move.

3. Pace yourself

Take it easy at first and, as you get stronger, gradually increase physical activity. Your medical advisers can help you to devise a plan to aid recovery and stay fit in the longer term.

Tips for getting over knee replacement surgery.

4. Eat correctly

If you don’t feel up to eating or have to prepare your own food, Dr Heath suggests eating little and often can help, and snacks, such as chopped fruit, can add valuable nutrients.

If you can’t eat normal meals (for example, because of swallowing difficulties), specially thickened or fortified drinks, soups or puréed foods moulded to look like the real thing can be a boon.

A supplement may also be useful.

5. Drink up

Aim for at least 1.6 litres – around 2.8 pints – of fluids a day. Choose from ordinary or herbal teas, juices and/or water. Keep a glass of water or juice close by so you can sip small amounts throughout the day.

"Some people are reluctant to drink if they are concerned about being able to get to the toilet, but hydration is vital for recovery," says Dr Heath. "You may want to limit fluid intake in the late evening, however, to avoid having to get up at night."

Guide to recovering from hip surgery.

6. Avoid constipation

This can be exacerbated by lack of body movement, not drinking enough and certain painkillers. If you're not opening your bowels as often as usual, seek medical advice.

7. Take time to relax

Sleep, rest and relaxation, balanced with mental stimulation, are the other key ingredients of recovery. 

"Listen to your body and if you feel tired, rest," says Dr Heath. "Stay positive, do things you enjoy and seek the company of those you like. Don't be afraid to ask for help and remember that laughter really is the best medicine."

8. Your support team

Getting better can involve different people, from your doctor and community nurse to a physiotherapist, occupational therapist or nutritionist. Most are available under the NHS. Your GP should be able to refer you to extra services.

For more tips and useful information, browse our health articles.

*Dr Heath is also an Honorary Senior Research Fellow  at City University London and Consultant Editor to the Journal of Dementia Care.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.