What activities can I do after heart surgery?

Expect to recover in 4 to 8 weeks after open heart surgery.

During your recovery period, it's okay to:
  • Do light cooking.
  • Do light housework (such as dusting, making the bed, and washing small loads of dishes).
  • Visit with friends and family for short periods (5 to 10 minutes).
  • Enjoy light hobbies such as reading, computer work, or handiwork.
  • Do personal grooming, dress in your regular clothes, and eat meals with your family.
  • Climb stairs slowly, and stop and rest if necessary to complete them comfortably.
  • Go to a movie or out to dinner.
Francis X. Downey, MD
Thoracic Surgery (Cardiothoracic Vascular)
As you recover from cardiac heart surgery, you will need to balance your activity, exercise, and rest. Your breastbone (sternum) will take about eight weeks to completely heal. During this time, please follow these guidelines in your activity choices:
  • Arm work: It's best to do activities that use both arms equally. One-sided movements like vacuuming, scrubbing, and raking put more strain on the sternum.
  • Stretching exercises: Stretching must be done regularly -- it may take six months to a year before your chest feels back to normal. Stretching will keep your shoulder and muscles flexible, and shorten the time that you feel discomfort in these muscles. Repeat each stretch five times slowly, four times a day. Remember, never hold your breath while stretching and stop if you feel any pain.
  • Driving: Avoid driving for two weeks from the day of discharge or until your doctor permits. Patients should not drive if they are taking narcotic pain pills during the day.
  • Lifting, pushing, and pulling: Avoid lifting, pushing, and pulling any object heavier than 10 to 15 pounds for 8 eight weeks. Eight weeks after your surgery, yYou may gradually begin lifting heavier objects eight weeks after your surgery.
  • Isometrics: Isometric activities involve continuous muscle tension. Avoid activities that involve straining and holding your breath.
  • Stair climbing: You may climb stairs after discharge when you need toed. Take them slowly and avoid carrying objects up and down stairs.
  • Sexual activity: Resuming sexual activity may cause some anxiety. It's important for you and your partner to talk openly during this time. A general guideline is if you can walk up and down 24 steps you should have the physical stamina for sexual activity. Start slowly and use positions that feel comfortable.
  • Going back to work: Ask your doctor about this. Jobs that involve more intense physical activity will require a longer period away from work.
As you feel stronger, you can go out and do more. At first, keep activities to about an hour.

Activities to try: Crafts, painting, knitting, cards or table games, walks with friends, shopping, movies, or sports events.

Activities to avoid: Swimming, driving, golfing, and strenuous activities.
Daniel P. O'Hair, MD
Thoracic Surgery (Cardiothoracic Vascular)

Light to moderate activities allowed after discharge from heart surgery include:

1. Personal care

  • Washing hands, face, and hair; brushing teeth; and dressing
  • Warm bath or shower -- take shorter ones at first to expend less energy. A shower may be better at first, as it takes energy to lower and raise yourself out of the bathtub. If you had a recent heart catheterization, follow your doctor's instructions as to when you may take a bath.

2. Household tasks

  • Light meal preparation
  • Grocery shopping, putting groceries away (avoid heavy lifting, do not carry up stairs)
  • Light cleaning -- dusting, straightening up, making bed, sweeping, washing dishes, ironing, and dust mopping

3. Recreational activities

  • Reading, board games (cards, checkers, puzzles), needlework (sewing, knitting)
  • Golf -- putting and chipping
  • Slow dancing, playing a musical instrument
  • Photography
  • Ping pong, billiards
  • Boating, fishing (from a boat, bank, or dock)

4. Social activities

  • Visiting, shopping, or going to a religious service, movie, concert, or sporting event

5. Yard work

  • Watering lawn or garden, sweeping outdoors
  • Hand gardening while sitting
  • Riding a lawn mower, trimming grass with a weed eater

6. Home repair

  • Most projects require more effort, so wait two to three weeks. Examples are painting small areas, light sanding and hammering, wiring, and plumbing.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.