Exercise After Cardiac Surgery | Boston Medical Center
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Exercise After Cardiac Surgery

Sternal Precautions

Sternal precautions! (for 6-8 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) 4-5 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 2-3 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 out loud and take slow, deep breaths).
  • Do 10 repetitions of each exercise. Two times a day.
  • Click here to download exercise sheet

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 ACTIVITIY!

Helpful hints about walking

  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
  • Do not perform your exercise and walking program for at least one hour after meals.
  • 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 at home or at a shopping mall.
  • Riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill is an acceptable alternative to walking.

Cardiac Rehabilitation

  • After 3-6 weeks after discharge 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 is approximately 3-4 weeks dependent on individual patient needs and usually 2-3 sessions per week.

Your family is welcome, and encouraged, to accompany you to exercise sessions and educational programs.


  • You will feel fatigued as you gradually increase your exercise program and activity level.
  • Your body needs adequate rest periods in order to recuperate.
  • 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.