Physical activity after heart surgery

NORMAL ACTIVITIES after discharge from the hospital:

  • Showers: You can take showers after your pacing wires and staples are out. Avoid soaking in baths until your incisions are healed. Avoid extremely hot water.
  • Dress: Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothes that do not put undue pressure on your incisions.
  • Rest: You need a balance of rest and exercise for your recovery. Plan to rest between activities and to take short naps as necessary. Resting also includes sitting quietly for 20-30 minutes. Rest 30 minutes after meals before exercising.
  • Walking: This is one of the best forms of exercise because it increases circulation throughout the body and to the heart muscle. It is important to increase your activity gradually. Walk at your own pace. Stop and rest if you get tired. Each person progresses at a different rate after heart surgery. Physical therapists will provide you with an individual plan for exercise before your discharge. It is important to pace your activities throughout the day. Do not try to do too many things at one time. In poor weather, lower than 40 degrees or above 80 degrees, you can walk at indoor shopping malls. In cold weather, wear a scarf or mask around your mouth and nose.
  • Stairs: Unless your doctor tells you differently, you can climb stairs. Take them at a slow pace. Stop and rest if you tire. When using the handrail, do not pull yourself up with your arms. Use your legs.
  • Sexual: You can resume sexual relations when you feel comfortable. For many people this is about two to four weeks after discharge unless instructed differently by your doctor. Please ask your nurse for more detailed information, if needed.
  • Driving: You can ride as a passenger in a car at any time. Avoid driving, outdoor bicycling, or motorcycle riding for six weeks after surgery. This time period is recommended to allow your breastbone (sternum) to heal. Your movements might also be limited and slow before the six weeks are up. When traveling, be sure to get out of the car every two hours and walk around for a few minutes.
  • Lifting: You should not put too much strain on your sternum while it is healing. Avoid lifting, pushing, or pulling anything heavier than 10 pounds for six weeks after surgery. This includes carrying children, groceries, suitcases, mowing the grass, vacuuming, and moving furniture. Don’t hold your breath during any activity, especially when lifting anything or when using the rest room.
  • Work: Most patients will begin to feel like returning to light work six to 12 weeks after surgery. Check with your surgeon before returning to work.
  • Visitors: Limit your visitors for the first couple of weeks. If you get tired, excuse yourself and lie down. Your visitors will understand.

Exercise guidelines:

  • Stop any exercise if you experience shortness of breath, dizziness, leg cramping, unusual fatigue, and/or chest pain (angina). Notify your doctor if these symptoms persist.
  • If your post-exercise pulse rate is more than 30 beats faster than your resting pulse rate you have exercised too hard.
  • In order to correct these conditions, you will need to modify your next exercise session.
  • Pulse assessment:
  • Monitoring your pulse rate helps to keep your activities within a safe heart rate range.

First six weeks:

  • Light houskeeping (dusting, setting the table, washing dishes, folding clothes)
  • Light gardening (potting plants, trimming flowers)
  • Needlework, reading
  • Cooking meals
  • Climbing stairs
  • Small mechanical jobs
  • Shopping
  • Attending sports events, church, movies, and restaurants
  • Passenger in car
  • Walking, treadmill, stationary bike
  • Shampooing hair
  • Playing cards/games

Six  weeks to three months:

  • Continue activities of first six weeks (but you may be able to tolerate more).
  • Return to work part-time if your job does not require lifting, and returning is approved by your surgeon
  • Heavy housework (vacuuming, sweeping, laundry)
  • Heavy gardening (mowing lawn, raking leaves)
  • Ironing
  • Business or recreational travel
  • Fishing, boating
  • Light aerobics (no weights)
  • Walking dog on leash
  • Driving a small car or truck.

After three months

  • Continue activities of one to three months (but you may be able to tolerate more);
  • Heavy housework (scrubbing floors);
  • Heavy gardening (shoveling snow, digging);
  • Sports: football, soccer, softball, baseball, tennis, bowling, golfing, swimming, water skiing, skydiving, hunting;
  • Jogging, bicycling, weightlifting, push-ups;
  • Motorcycle riding.

(From: Discharge instructions for heart surgery patients by The Society of Thoracic Surgeons)