Cardiac rehabilitation after surgery

Starting a cardiovascular conditioning exercise program may be a challenge, but after a few days or weeks of regular exercise, you:

  • will gain more strength and stamina
  • will have better blood pressure control
  • may feel more confident and independent
  • may find it easier to maintain or lose weight
  • may have more energy
  • may help lower cholesterol and triglycerides
  • may notice decreased stiffness, soreness and discomfort.

Changes you may notice when you exercise

When you exercise, your muscles work to cause an increased amount of blood to return to your heart. Your new heart is then able to increase the amount of blood it pumps with each beat.

Chemicals released by your adrenal glands into your bloodstream will also cause your heart to beat faster during periods of exercise or stress.

Some other changes you may find after surgery:

  • Your resting heart rate may be higher.
  • You may get lightheaded when you change positions, such as getting out of bed.
  • Your heart rate will take longer to increase after you start exercising and longer to return to resting rate after stop exercising.
  • You will not be able to receive sensations from your heart such as angina (chest pain). Studies are showing that in some cases nerve paths begin to re-grow, and people have reported feeling chest pain. Call 911 if you feel chest pain.

Guidelines for the walking program

You started your walking program in the hospital. Continue your walking program the day you return home.

  • Add one to three minutes each day.
  • Your long-term goal is to work toward 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise five times per week. Aerobic exercise is any exercise that increases your heart rate. This includes walking, swimming and biking.
  • If you have any problems, slow your pace and remain at that level until it becomes easier.

Warm up and cool down

Your heart rate will take longer to increase after starting exercise and longer to return to your resting rate. It is important to warm up and cool down.

  • The warm up will allow your body to increase breathing, circulation and body temperature. This gets your body ready to exercise.
  • The cool down will let your body adjust slowly to return to slowed breathing, circulation and body temperature. This gets your body ready for rest.

For both a warm up and cool down, walk three to five minutes at a leisurely pace. Gently stretch your muscles.

Signs that you are doing too much

As you exercise, check your heart rate and your body's responses. Stop and rest if you have any of the following:

  • feel dizzy or lightheaded
  • have a cold sweat
  • feel extremely tired or drained
  • are short of breath (making talking difficult)
  • have an upset stomach or vomiting
  • feel as if your heart is suddenly racing or pounding
  • have joint or muscle pain.

If your symptoms do not go away after resting, call your doctor. Important: Call 911 if you have chest pain or pressure that moves to the teeth, arm, jaw, ear, neck or back.

Whom to call with questions

Call the cardiac exercise therapist near your home or the Abbott Northwestern cardiac rehab therapist at 612-775-3381 or 1-800-553-4987 if you have questions about your home exercise program.

Community programs

Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation is a supervised program that may be located in or near your community. These programs promote positive lifestyle changes through physical exercise, education and support.

Programs meet two to three times a week, and may require a doctor’s order to participate.

Check with your insurance provider to see if you have coverage or if you need a doctor’s order.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Care After Heart Transplant, cvs-ah-95405 (1/18)
First Published: 01/06/2013
Last Reviewed: 01/19/2018