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How to prepare for surgery

Patsy Westcott / 26 April 2016

Due for an operation? The healthier and more informed you are before theatre, the smoother and speedier your recovery is likely to be.

Hospital bed
Knowing exactly what your treatment involves and how long you could be in hospital, will help prepare you for your operation and allay anxiety.

Get active

An exercise regime in the six to 12 weeks before surgery can really boost your recovery.

Include aerobic exercise (anything, such as walking, swimming, cycling or gentle aqua aerobics, that gets you slightly puffed and sweaty), strength exercise, and stretching.

If you’re unused to exercise or have a pre-existing health condition, consult your GP first. Ask them if you are eligible for exercise on prescription. Alternatively, see a physiotherapist.

Related: Visit our exercise and fitness section for help and inspiration

Eat right

Great nutrition is essential for a great recovery. Include plenty of high- quality protein foods (fish, lean meat, nuts, seeds, pulses and eggs), plus at least seven portions of fresh vegetables and fruit a day, some dairy foods and ‘good’ fats, such as olive oil.

Cut down or cut out fatty, sugary foods, including pies, pastries and sweets. And make sure you stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water. If you need a special diet, contact the hospital before admission so they can make arrangements to accommodate you.

Related: Visit our nutrition section to find information and inspiration

Address lifestyle

Alcohol pre-surgery can delay recovery so cut it out, or at least cut down. If you are a smoker, quit two weeks or more before your operation. Smoking increases the risks of anaesthesia and can delay wound healing.

Do your homework

Knowing exactly what your treatment involves, how it could affect you, how long you could be in hospital, and how soon you can expect to be up and about, will help prepare you for your operation and allay anxiety.

Ask the surgeon what preoperative preparation is on offer, such as Joint School, which hospitals use to prepare patients for hip or knee replacements. Doctors may also be able to point you to useful websites that contain details of your operation.

Check out the NHS Choices site ( for written information, videos and tips from doctors and other patients on most operations.

Related: Read our diary of a hip replacement

Sort out existing health conditions

See your GP or consultant if you have any existing health problems (e.g. diabetes) to ensure they are being managed optimally, to find out if surgery is likely to affect them and if there are any steps you need to take, such as adjusting your medication.


Anxiety and depression can result in a longer hospital stay, increased risk of infection and poorer recovery. Learning how to relax and breathe can help ease anxiety.

If you suffer significant anxiety or depression, cognitive behavioural therapy could be beneficial. Ask your GP if you are eligible under the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service.

Related: 10 ways to reduce anxiety

Set up support

Make sure there is someone to look after you when you get home. If you have been assessed as needing care and support when you leave hospital, check this will be in place in time for your arrival home. The consultant, social worker or ward manager can advise on all the above.

Some branches of Age UK offer the Home from Hospital service, which may include help to get your house ready for your return, plus assistance with shopping, laundry, collecting your pension, prescriptions and so on.  For more, see or call 0800 169 6565.

Read our article on the latest techniques that help you recover fast from surgery in the May issue of Saga Magazine.


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.