News Release

More than 7,500 daily steps prior to surgery is associated with lower risk of postoperative complications

Study analyzing Fitbit wearable metrics on surgical patients sheds light on physical activity and lower risk of postoperative complications

Reports and Proceedings

American College of Surgeons

More than 7,500 Daily Steps Prior to Surgery Is Associated with Lower Risk of Postoperative Complications make sentence case


Physical activity lowers risk of postoperative complications.


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Credit: American College of Surgeons

Key takeaways 

  • Using Fitbit activity tracking data, researchers identified patients who might be at higher risk of postoperative complications. Fewer daily steps were associated with a higher rate of complications postoperatively.  

  • The odds of complications within 90 days after hospital discharge were reduced by half if a patient took more than 7,500 steps a day before the operation, after adjusting for the complexity of the procedure, comorbidities, and other factors.  

CHICAGO (October 20, 2023): Patients who recorded more walking activity prior to surgery, regardless of complexity of the operation or their health status, showed 51% reduced odds for postoperative complications than less active patients, according to research findings being presented at the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Clinical Congress 2023. 

Postoperative complications typically occur in about 30% of patients,1 and about half of all complications occur after the patient leaves the hospital.2 

“Fitbits and other wearable devices could potentially be linked to Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and have that data be something that surgeons consider when planning perioperative care for their patients,” said lead study author Carson Gehl, a second-year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. “This could really come to fruition to improve postoperative outcomes.” 

Researchers analyzed health data for 475 people participating in the All of Us Research Program — a National Institutes of Health-sponsored program focusing on the relationship between lifestyle, biology, and environment in diverse populations — who used a Fitbit device, worn like a watch, that measured their daily steps. This is the only population-level study to explore the association between physical activity, as measured by a Fitbit, and 90-day postoperative complications, according to the study authors. 

“We used the combination of EHRs and Fitbit data to uncover how to potentially improve surgical outcomes. In our study, we looked at how many steps patients recorded on any given day, which is a proxy for physical activity,” Gehl said.  

“However, the fitness data wasn’t limited to the immediate preoperative period. The length of their activity record could be six months or several years before surgery. This is more reflective of chronic physical activity habits, versus the physical activity in the immediate preoperative period.” 

Participants underwent a wide range of operations, including general surgery, orthopedic surgery, and neurosurgery, and were an average age of 57 years old. Women comprised 74.7% of participants, and 85.2% of participants were White.  

Key findings 

  • About 12.6% of study participants experienced a complication within 90 days of surgery. 

  • The odds of experiencing a complication within 30 days after surgery were 45% less (odds ratio 0.55) if patients took more than 7,500 steps per day prior to surgery than if their Fitbit recorded fewer than 7,500 steps.  

  • After adjusting for comorbidities, BMI, sex, race, and complexity of the operation, the odds of experiencing a complication were 51% lower (odds ratio 0.49) if patients had Fitbit data showing they had walked more than 7,500 steps per day before surgery.  

“If we find people who are at high risk, using these Fitbit tools, we could monitor them more closely following their procedure because that allows us to catch problems before they progress beyond control,” Gehl said. “Another goal of our research is to modify physical activity in the preoperative period and improve postoperative outcomes. We need more studies and evidence to answer that question.” 

A limitation of the study was that available Fitbit data came from a less diverse group of patients. Fitbit is a device worn like a watch to self-track sleep, physical activity, and heart rate data. Study participants had to have their own Fitbit device, which limits the generalizability of the study results.  

Study co-authors are Nathaniel B. Verhagen; Tahseen Shaik; Xin Yang, PhD; Bradley W. Taylor; Ugwuji N. Maduekwe, MD, FACS; and Anai Kothari, MD, MS.   

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. 

The data in this press release reflect updated findings from what was included in the abstract presented at the ACS Clinical Congress 2023.

Citation: Gehl CJ, et al. Wearable Device/Smart Watch Activity Trackers as a Tool for Surgical Risk Stratification, Scientific Forum, American College of Surgeons (ACS) Clinical Congress 2023. 


1 Dharap SB, Barbaniya P, Navgale S. Incidence and Risk Factors of Postoperative Complications in General Surgery Patients. Cureus. 2022 Nov 1;14(11):e30975. 

2 Wick, Elizabeth C., et al. Readmission Rates and Cost Following Colorectal Surgery. Diseases of the Colon & Rectum. 54(12):1475-1479; Dec. 2011. 

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About the American College of Surgeons  

The American College of Surgeons is a scientific and educational organization of surgeons that was founded in 1913 to raise the standards of surgical practice and improve the quality of care for all surgical patients. The College is dedicated to the ethical and competent practice of surgery. Its achievements have significantly influenced the course of scientific surgery in America and have established it as an important advocate for all surgical patients. The College has approximately 90,000 members and is the largest organization of surgeons in the world. “FACS” designates that a surgeon is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

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