Eliz Greene

What should you do to recover from heart surgery? (and what shouldn’t you do)

A full recovery from open heart surgery will take up to 3 month, and most of the recovery time will be at home. Understanding what you can and cannot do is important to recovering well.  Keep in mind these dos and don’ts for a speedy and full recovery.

  • Do Establish A Routine

Ward off depression and allow your body to adjust to being home by creating a daily routine. Wake at the same time each day, have regular meal times, schedule exercise, visits, and entertainment during the day, and go to bed at a regular time.

  • Don’t Over Do It

You will be limited in the number of stairs you can climb and the amount you can lift. Don’t cheat.  The limits are set to allow your sternum to heal properly and to keep your heart from overworking before it has recovered.

  • Do Attend Cardiac Rehabilitation

As you recover your heart will need to be strengthened.  During cardiac rehabilitation your heart is constantly monitored while you exercise.  You will regain strength and endurance, but also will gain confidence in your repaired heart.

  • Don’t Doze All Day

Take a short nap in the afternoon if you are very tired, but otherwise try to avoid sleeping during the day to allow your body to readjust to a normal schedule.

  • Do Wear A Seatbelt

Until your sternum is completely healed, you will not be able to drive. If you ride in a car, do wear your seatbelt. The seatbelt may be uncomfortable against your chest. Using a small towel as padding may be more comfortable.

A surgically repaired sternum is really a broken bone and will take at least six weeks to heal fully. Most of the limitations on activities are made to protect the sternum while it heals.

  • Don’t Worry About Decreased Concentration

It is normal to be fuzzy-headed after surgery and even notice decreased language or math skills initially. Most of the time this completely resolves within the first six weeks of recovery.

  • Do Take Medications On Schedule

Many cardiac medications must be taken at the same time every day. Using a pill keeper and the alarm on your watch or phone can be useful in keeping on schedule.

  • Don’t Be Shy. Ask For Help

If you are feeling sad or depressed for more than two week after returning home, or are having negative thoughts, seek help. Depression and anxiety are very common after heart surgery.

  • Do Join A Peer Support Group

Talking with other people who have recovered from heart surgery can be very comforting. Find a Mended Hearts or WomenHeart program in your area or ask your doctor for information about groups near you.

  • Don’t Skip Meals

After heart surgery many people lose their appetites, or find food tastes odd. Many people experience a metallic taste in their mouths for a while. Eating enough calories to fuel healing is important. Four to six small meals per day may be easier than three larger meals. Eat even if you aren’t hungry. Now is not the time to diet or try to lose weight. Consult with your doctor or dietician for tips to pack in calories such as protein drinks or meal replacement drinks.

  • Do Post Emergency Information On Your Refrigerator

Be prepared. Make a list of your medications, your doctor’s name and contact information, emergency contact person, and your name and birthdate on a brightly colored piece of paper. Hand the information on your refrigerator and carry a copy in your wallet or purse.

  • Do Shower Every Day

You won’t be able to take a bath for a while, but keeping yourself and your incision clean is very important.

  • Don’t Shy Away From The Scale.

Keeping track of your weight it very important. Rapid weight gain is very concerning and could be a sign of complications. Get on the scale every day and keep track of the results. Report to the doctor if you gain more than two pound in a day or more than 3 pound over a week.

  • Do Have Reasonable Expectations

There will be good days and bad days. Be kind to yourself and remember full recovery can take 12 weeks. Rest when you are tired. Seek out company of those who support you. As your heart recovers and your body heals, things will begin to taste better, you will have more energy, and you will be able to resume a more normal life.

Keep in mind these Dos and Don’ts as you recovery from open heart surgery. What you do at home will have a large impact on how quickly and how well you heal.



About Eliz Greene

Eliz Greene survived a heart attack at age 35 while seven months pregnant with twins. Her down-to-earth strategies to manage stress and improve heart health and reduce stress are used by thousands of busy people all over the world. She is a motivational wellness speaker, author, and job stress researcher. Visit elizgreene.com to book Eliz for your next event.

21 Responses to “Dos and Don’ts Of Recovering From Open Heart Surgery”

  • I am having a problem wearing my sports bra for more than 3 to 4 hours. It starts with pressure on my sternum and if I don’t remove it I am faced with breath taking pain with every breath. There is nothing wrong with my lungs. I have been told this on several occasions. I do not wish to join the braless population. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

    • You might try visiting a store that supplies mastectomy bras. They are highly trained to fit bras and have access to things you won’t find in a retail store. It could even be covered by insurance…maybe…good to check

  • It’s good to know more about recovering from heart surgery. I didn’t realize that taking protein or meal replacement drinks is a good way to keep calories in your diet. My mom may need heart surgery soon, so I’ll be sure to tell her this.

    • Happy to help! Sometimes we lose our appetite after surgery – so any way we can get the calories and protein in… it is good!

  • I am four months post open heart surgery. I had an aortic bypass and aortic valve replaced. My concern is that my chest aches some days more than others whether I’m active or not. Sometime it’s a 7 out of 10 for pain. Is this normal? Help please! PS: I still am napping in the afternoon. I have started cardio rehab and walking 1 hour 5 days a week prior to rehab.

    • Hi Carol, It sounds like you are doing all the right things to heal. My sternum was very tender and ached for several months after surgery. Isn’t fun to have your own internal barometer? (Not really, right?!) Think about healing your chest like healing a broken bone. It takes a while for new tissue to grown and the bones to heal. I encourage you to talk with your doctor about how you are feeling and to keep up the good work on your recovery!

  • Mr dr reffered me to a cardiac consultant who said I have mitral regurgitation. Leaky valve. A. is there any way to avoid open heart surgery to fix this? If I do end up having to get open heart surgery what is the shortest recovery Im 51 year old man. 2 story house next appointment is to discuss surgery witch I dont know what that means like…….ok you need it your getting it any questions or…..heres the options to fix this.

  • I am scheduled for open heart valve surgery on Dec. 4 2019. I am thrilled to find this website for support and information. I live alone on a farm with horses, dogs and cats. I have good neighbors who will help with the animals but I wonder how long before I can get back to normal.
    My anxiety level goes up and increases my afib when I spend much time in research.
    I am open to whatever suggestions you may have.

  • I am having open heart surgery on the 6th of July 2012. Kinda depressed about the whole thing. I am the kind of person that can’t stay still, need to move and the recovery is really worrying me.

  • Have had a aortic valve replacement. At 83 love to run. Pre op my heart was in sinus rhythm. Post op am in AF. Am now 2 months post , and have started light jogging. Have been promised cardio version, when I don’t know. Am I wise to continue jogging in AF ?

  • Hi everyone, so I have had 2 open heart surgeries first one was in 2012 I had aortic valve replacement I was 44. My surgery went well. I had my second surgery Dec. 16 2021. now 3 weeks out, I had to have aortic bypass and the valve replaced I am 54 years old. This time around I had to a pacemaker put in. Not happy about that but it is what it is. Now my heart beats a little too fast for me. Anyways we all heal differently. good luck to all of you.


  • I am due to have open heart surgery very soon for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I don’t see anyone else on this list who had this. My question is will I need to hire an aide to help me when I come home. If yes, for how many hours a day and for how long. My significant other lives with me, but we are in our late seventies and his health is not so good. Thanks for any help.

    • I’m not a healthcare provider – so I can’t offer any advice on whether you’ll need an aide. I can offer a couple of questions to ask yourself as you make this decision:

      1. Will having an aide make me feel less anxious about my recovery?
      2. Will having an aide take pressure off my loved ones and protect their well-being?
      3. What resources does my surgeon’s nursing staff offer?

      I hope that is helpful and wish you a swift and full recovery!

  • I had my first aortic valve replacement in June 1990 at age 41. The valve was a homo- graft. It was supposed to last about 12 years. It lasted until August of this year, at age a couple of days shy of my 74th birthday. The valve lasted 32 years. I attributed it to the fact that my job was very physical, I worked out five days a week, and after COVID I walked up to ten miles a day. I am in recovery at this time but am managing up to four miles a day.
    For anyone having to go through this for the first time, I understand the trepidation. For me I would rather go to Disneyland, but it will probably have to be done if this is what your doctor says. Naturally I don’t want to go through this again so I am going to do everything to extend the life of this valve made up of bovine and porcine. Exercise, eat right, keep the blood pressure and BPM low.

  • My mother just had heart surgery and is staying with my husband and I and our 4 kids in a 3 bedroom house. Things are very difficult for me taking care of everyone and dealing with her depression. She’s upsetting my kids and causing a lot of problems at my house. She was in the process of leaving a bad relationship before the heart problems and has no sense of identity and nothing going for herself. She needs more help than I can give but no other family members are willing to do anything. Where do I turn for help? Isn’t there somewhere she could go that can help her heal and get on her own feet? I don’t know what to do but I’m really tired of everyone in my house suffering because of her

    • Oh, Rachel! I wish I could be there to give you a hug. I completely understand the pressure you are under. You may find this website helpful: https://www.aginglifecare.org// Also, contacting your mom’s doctor and asking for a referral to a social worker may be helpful to access resources locally. Hang in there – I’m pulling for you!!

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