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Heart Surgery Rehabilitation: Resuming Regular Activities After Heart Surgery

Congratulations! You’ve made it through heart surgery and the initial phase of recovery, and you’re ready to start getting back to your normal life. You’ve already made a lot of progress, but there may be things you still can’t do. So what steps can you take to get back to your new normal? Are there adjustments you’ll need to make?

How is activity limited?

Once you’ve made it through the first six to eight weeks of recovery, you should be ready to resume most of your pre-surgery activities. Once your doctor has given you the okay, you can also start driving, having sex, and doing some more strenuous activities. Just make sure you fully understand what your doctor recommends. Don’t rely on the internet or your family or friends to tell you what’s right for you. Only you and your doctor together can make decisions about what is safe for you and when.

If you are in cardiac rehab, you’ll slowly build your strength back. At some point, you may start to feel like your old self. You may want to do everything like you did before. But make sure you are ready. Don’t get down on yourself if it takes you longer to do things or if you get out of breath faster than you did before surgery. A full recovery will probably take up to one year. You’ll get there, but it will take patience and hard work.

What types of lifestyle adjustments are necessary?

If your surgery was successful, it addressed a specific problem, such as coronary artery blockage. What it didn’t do was correct the underlying disease. So if you had coronary artery disease before surgery, you will still have it after surgery. It’s important that you take all of your medications as prescribed to help manage your disease and to adjust your lifestyle to prevent it from getting worse. Changing your lifestyle may even help you reverse some of your health conditions. For example, you can reduce your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar by making changes to your diet, exercise routine, and general lifestyle improvements like quitting smoking.

Here are some lifestyle adjustments that may help you:

  • Get into the habit of eating a heart-healthy diet. If you need help understanding what that means, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.
  • Exercise regularly – like every day. At first, you will need to limit your exercise to activity like walking. Talk to your doctor or cardiac rehabilitation tech about what types of exercise are safe for you. You may find low-impact exercises like swimming, cycling, and yoga to be good for you too. Eventually, you should be able to start incorporating weight-bearing exercises and more strenuous activity into your routine. Just don’t start any new exercises without getting your doctor’s okay.
  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco products, and try to stay away from second-hand smoke as well.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Take care of your mental and emotional health. Seek professional help with a therapist and remember asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. There is no shame in having mental and emotional struggles. It’s totally normal and even expected after a heart attack or heart surgery. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Manage your stress, and take steps to reduce it. Some people find meditation, relaxation exercises, prayer, and yoga to be helpful.

Your post-surgery life

You may consider your life after surgery your new normal. And adapting to it may take some time and effort. But be patient. Don’t feel bad if it takes you some time to adjust. Each person has a unique path to recovery after heart surgery. Remember, you don’t have to stop doing everything you enjoy. Spend time doing the things you love to do that do fit into your doctor’s recommendations. Play cards, listen to music, paint, cook, go for walks outside and enjoy the fresh air, read, write, play board games…that sort of thing. You may also want to take this time to learn to do things you’ve always wanted to do but could never find the time.

Eventually, you’ll be able to do most if not all of what you could do before surgery, golf, hike, ride your bike, run, garden, or other activities. And if you make some of the positive lifestyle changes your doctor recommends, you may find that these activities are even easier and more enjoyable than they were before.