Sternal Precautions

For six to eight weeks:

  • DO NOT LIFT, PUSH, OR PULL objects heavier than 10 pounds (i.e., gallon of milk).
  • Avoid trunk twisting.

Breathing Exercises

  • Use the incentive spirometer (IS) four to five times a day.
  • Each session, do 10 slow, deep breaths. Be sure to relax your shoulders.
  • Take your time between breaths.
  • Placing your hands (or cough pillow) over your chest incision, perform two or three strong coughs.
  • BMC also offers Breathing Exercise classes.

Mobility and Flexibility Exercises

  • Do these exercises before and after walking.
  • Do not hold your breath (count aloud and take slow, deep breaths).
  • Do 10 repetitions of each exercise two times a day.

Walking Program

  • For the next four to six weeks before starting cardiac rehabilitation, you will be doing a walking program twice a day.
  • Measure walking in terms of time (minutes) not distance (miles).
  • If you have chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or palpitations, STOP YOUR ACTIVITY!

Helpful hints about walking

  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
  • Wait at least one hour after meals to do your exercise and walking program.
  • Avoid hilly areas and excessive stair climbing. Pace yourself when climbing stairs.
  • Exercising in cold and windy or hot and humid weather puts stress on your heart. If temperatures outside are below 40 degrees or above 75 degrees, then exercise indoors.
  • Riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill is an acceptable alternative to walking.

Cardiac Rehabilitation

  • Three to six weeks after you're discharged from the hospital, your cardiologist will recommend beginning an outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program.
  • Prior to beginning cardiac rehabilitation, your cardiologist will schedule an exercise tolerance test (ETT).

Cardiac Rehabilitation consists of:

  • Exercise while being monitored by telemetry.
  • Education on pacing, breathing, nutrition, and how to maintain a healthier and rewarding lifestyle.
  • The length of the program depends on your needs, but usually lasts three to four weeks, with two to three sessions per week.


  • You will feel very tired as you gradually increase your exercise program and activity level.
  • Your body needs many rest periods in order to recover.
  • You may want to nap once or twice a day when you are at home.

Questions at home

We are available for any questions you might have at home. Please feel free to contact one of our surgeons, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants at 617-638-7350.