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Heart Surgery

Walking, work, and activities

Talk with your family doctor about when you can return to your usual activities, sports, and work.

Be active after surgery with the goal of doing your recovery exercises​ and a daily 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. Use these tips as you walk during recovery:​

  • 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.
  • Pace yourself. You should be able to walk and talk at the same time.​

You can know how much energy you use while walking with the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale and talk test in the table below. Perceived exertion means how you feel about how much effort you use. Keep your RPE between 11 and 13.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale 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

Going back to work

You can usually return to light work duties 6 to 8 weeks after you go home. Talk to your family doctor to see if you're ready. If you do heavier work (such as with lots of moving around or heavy lifting), it may be longer before you can go back.

When you go back depends 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.​


​​Ask your surgeon about when it will be safe for you to drive after surgery.

Usually, you won't be able to drive for at least 4-6 weeks after surgery. If you drive during this time, your insurance may not cover you. Tell your insurance company before you start driving again. They may as for a doctor's note.

If you drive for work ​— such as a truck driver or taxi driver — you won't be allowed to drive for at least 3 months. Contact Alberta Drive Fitness and Monitoring (use their online contact form​ or call 780-427-8230) or your provincial commercial office for more information.

See your family doctor to update your driver's medical before you start driving again.


Talk to your heart surgeon or family doctor before you fly. You may need to ask for a letter from your family doctor saying it is safe for you to fly.


​​You can be sexually active as soon as you and your partner feel ready.

Don't put pressure on your chest if it causes discomfort. Take a position during sex that is more passive and doesn​'t put stress on the breastbone.

Don't do sexual activity after eating a heavy meal or drinking alcohol. They put more demands on your heart.

Some medicine lowers your desire for sex. Other medicine may slow or block sexual response. If you have concerns, talk to your family doctor.

Alcohol and cannabis

​​It's best to avoid alcohol during your recovery. Alcohol affects how well and how fast you heal. It can also affect some of the medicine you take, such as:

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

​If you choose to drink alcohol, see Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Your Health and talk to your doctor.​

Smoking cannabis can be harmful to your lungs during recovery. If you choose to use any form of cannabis (including edibles), it is best to talk to your doctor first.​​​​​

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