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Heart Surgery


Walking program

Walking is an important part of your recovery. Try to walk 30 to 40 minutes each day. It’s the best exercise to keep your heart and lungs healthy.
  • Start with 2 short walks, 5 minutes each time. Add 5 minutes every 2 or 3 days.
  • Once you can walk for 15 minutes at a time, walk only once a day, gradually working up to 30 to 40 minutes a day.
  • Once you can walk 40 minutes, try walking faster or adding a hill to your walk.
  • Walk in a mall or school gym if the weather is too cold or wet.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
  • Keep a walking journal to track your progress.

You can track how much energy you’re using during your walk by rating on this scale. Perceived exertion means how you feel about how much effort you use. Remember to keep your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) between 11 and 13.

Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE) and Talk Test
RPE Scale Talk Test
6 Resting
7 Very, very light
9 Very light Able to sing
11 Fairly light Can talk comfortably and in full sentences.
13 Somewhat hard
15 Hard Saying more than 4 to 6 words is hard to do.
17 Very Hard Saying 1 word is hard.
19 Very, very hard
20 Maximum Effort
  • Pace yourself. You should be able to walk and talk at the same time.
  • Pay attention to how the exercise makes you feel. The RPE scale gives you a way to assess and describe it.
  • You can still climb stairs. If you are concerned about stairs at home, let your healthcare team know and they’ll help you climb up and down stairs before you go home.
  • Take your time when climbing stairs and make sure to rest as needed.


Your body needs more protein and other nutrients to help you heal after surgery.

You may not be hungry when you first come home. It often takes a few weeks for your appetite to come back.

If you don’t feel like eating, try to:

  • eat small amounts of food often during the day
  • eat foods that you like
  • have nutritious snacks such as protein shakes, fruit, and yogurt
  • include nutrition supplement drinks such as Ensure, Boost, Carnation Breakfast Essentials (You can buy these in most grocery and drug stores.)


Go back to your sport activities slowly. Remember that you’re using muscles that haven’t been exercised for a while, and that your body needs time to heal.

Talk with your family doctor if you have questions about when you can return to your usual activity.

Driving and Travel

  • Usually you won’t be able to drive for at least 6 weeks after surgery. If you drive during this time, you may not be covered by insurance. Notify your insurance company before you start driving again. A doctor’s note will be helpful as insurance policies differ.
  • Enjoy being a passenger and let someone else do the driving for you.
  • The safest seat for you is in the back. If your vehicle has a built in switch to turn off the front passenger airbag you may sit in the front.
  • Remember to always use your seatbelt. You can put your support pillow between your chest and your seatbelt for comfort.
  • On longer trips, stop every hour to stretch your legs. If you have to travel a long way, break up the trip into 2 days. This will keep you from getting too tired.
  • If you want to fly somewhere, ask your heart surgeon or family doctor if you’re well enough to fly. You may need to ask for a “Fit to Fly” letter from your family doctor.
  • If you drive for a living (commercial driver) you’re not allowed to drive for at least 3 months. Alberta Transportation is required to review all documents before you return to commercial driving. Please contact Alberta Transportation at (780) 427-8230 or your provincial commercial office for information. See your family doctor to update your driver’s medical before driving again.

Sexual Activity

  • You can be sexually active as soon as you and your partner feel ready.
  • Sexual activity demands the same amount of energy from your heart as climbing 18 stairs at a normal pace.
  • Don’t put pressure on your chest if it causes discomfort. This usually means taking a passive position during intercourse. A passive position doesn’t put stress on the breastbone.
  • Don’t do sexual activity after eating a heavy meal or drinking alcohol as these put more demands on your heart.
  • Some medicine lowers your desire for sex, while others may slow or block sexual response. If you have concerns, talk to your family doctor.

Family and Friends

This can be a hard time for your family and friends too as they adjust to different roles and responsibilities after your surgery. They may be tired because of the stress of your surgery, visiting at the hospital often, and the other things they may have had to do. It’s important that your family and friends also take care of themselves during this time.

The tips below may help:

  • Save your energy. Some housework and other projects can wait.
  • Schedule activities so that they work for both of you.
  • Plan breaks away from the house with friends.
  • Try to get enough sleep so that you feel rested when you wake up.
  • Understand that it’s normal for you to have good days and bad days too.
  • Rest when your partner rests.
  • You may want to limit visitors for a time after you’re home until you’ve had a chance to settle in.

Emotions and Stress at Home

Post op depression can happen to anyone. If you find feelings aren’t getting better talk to your family doctor. It’s not uncommon for people that have had heart surgery to need help like an anti-depressant after surgery. If it turns out that this is something you need, don’t be embarrassed or afraid to ask for it.

If you feel frustrated by not being able to do very much, it’s better to say it than to show it. If your family is afraid or worried about you, it’s better for them to talk to you about it than to keep it to themselves.


It’s not a good idea to drink alcohol during your recovery. Alcohol affects how well and how fast you heal. It can also affect some of the medicine you take like:

  • pain medicine
  • sleeping pills
  • blood thinners (warfarin or Coumadin)

If you aren’t taking any of the above medicine and choose to drink alcohol, limit your amount per day to:

  • hard liquor - 2 ounces (60 mL) OR
  • wine - 8 ounces (240 mL) OR
  • beer - 2 bottles or cans

Limit the amount you drink a week to:

  • no more than 9 drinks for women
  • no more than 14 drinks for men

Going Back to Work

You can usually return to light work duties 6 to 8 weeks after you go home, sometimes sooner. Talk this over with your family doctor to see if you’re ready. If your work involves heavier work, it may be longer before you can go back.

When you go back will depend on how fast

  • you recover or heal
  • how well you feel
  • your energy level
  • the type of job you have

Going back to work is different for everyone. If you have any questions about when you can go back to work talk to your healthcare team before you go home.

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