There’s nothing equivocal about it; heart surgery in any capacity is a big, terrifying prospect. One could be in the hands of the world’s greatest heart surgeon and still be legitimately nerve-wracked. This is a natural, justified response. Although the surgery itself gas gotten exponentially less risky in recent years due to incredible advances in medical science, far more extensive and intimate knowledge of human anatomy and even the assistance of precision robotics, there are still several other large aspects of surgery that must be carefully monitored and maintained after the surgery is successfully completed. Exercise is one of the most important aspects of maintaining good health, whether you’ve had heart surgery or not. For the former, it is an essential part of recovery as well.
Apprehensions And Benefits
Many people feel very apprehensive about exercising and putting their heart under stress after it’s been operated on, and are concerned that it might somehow induce further heart problems. The fact is, one of the most common causes of heart complications is inactivity and the heart not getting enough conditioning. If this is the case, heart surgery should be an indication that habits probably need to be altered so there is no repeat of an incident. Repairing the heart fixes the problem, but not necessarily the underlying cause. Exercise helps to make the heart and lungs work much more efficiently, lower the resting heart rate, and drastically reduce the risk of stroke or heart disease. Cardiac muscle is specifically designed to contract, and like any muscle, it must be exercised to be strengthened. While still under constant supervision in a hospital, an exercise program must be set up and begun to condition and re-adjust the heart to the body. This also lets medical professionals observe how your body reacts to cardiovascular exercise so a regimen can be designed.
How It’s Done
As a practical measure, designing an exercise regimen after heart surgery starts out by obtaining a resting heart rate and resting blood pressure. Then the actual exercise starts off slowly, either by simply walking, or by using an indoor stationary bike with only a small amount of resistance. After it’s observed how the heart and body react to exercise, the intensity and time can be slowly increased in subsequent days. Generally, the first month to six weeks after surgery is a delicate period of time where a medical emergency is most likely, but keeping your physical activity limited and light will minimize this risk. Very light housework, golf putting or slow, easy stair climbing are usually acceptable activities to perform, pending approval from a doctor. Remember, you won’t be released from the hospital to execute an exercise regimen on your own. You will be provided with a custom, thorough program tailored to you and your limitations if you have any. If your doctors have any doubts or observe any abnormalities, they will most likely keep you at the hospital to conduct the beginning of your exercise regimen under professional supervision.
The Upper Body
The breastbone and chest incision need the appropriate amount of time to heal after a major surgical procedure like cardiac surgery, but at the same time, the upper body must remain limber and mobile. There are certain arm movements that cause pressure on the breastbone, such as relying on the arms to get out of a chair or get up stairs, push-pull movements, or raising the arms all the way above the head. These movements need to be avoided. Instead, move your arms throughout their ranges of motion to the point just before it becomes uncomfortable, then place your hands on your shoulders, and make circles with your elbows. These exercises stretch out the muscles in the upper body without putting stress on the breastbone. Begin with 4 or 5 sets every day, and then gradually increase to 15.
What’s Not Normal?
During the course of exercise, it is perfectly normal and expected to have increased heart rate and respiration, and to perspire and experience muscle fatigue. These are the markers of increased physical activity and are nothing to be concerned about. What is critical to your health is to know what’s not normal.
- Chest pressure or chest pain
- Blurry vision
- Extreme shortness of breath
- Weakness or cramping
- Inability to move one side of the body (indicative of a stroke)
If any of these symptoms surface, it is paramount that you immediately stop exercise and seek the help of a medical professional. If you feel its life threatening, do not hesitate to dial 911.
By Lauren Hill