Rehabbing after heart surgery

9th December 2021
Rehabbing after heart surgery

Rehabilitation, in particular exercise, after heart surgery is advised for the majority of heart patients, writes Andrew Burns, Lifestyle & Physical Activity Manager, Mardyke Arena UCC.

The style of exercise post heart surgery has traditionally been in a group setting first within a hospital setting and then onto a gym or local community centre. However, home-based exercise has been shown to be just as effective at increasing physical fitness during cardiac rehabilitation.

Up to now, it has simply been something we did not focus on as much. The same exercise principles below apply;

Frequency: You should undertake exercise everyday if possible.

Now many of our clients at the arena clinic are reporting and saying they have fallen out of a routine and may not have the day-to-day energy to exercise all days of the week. Start where you are and build up if possible but remember some physical activity is better than no physical activity.

Rebuilding may take a month or so but that is normal. Do not worry if circumstances are holding you back on certain days; focus your efforts on establishing a weekly routine, where exercise is in your schedule.

Intensity: You will get the most health benefits by working up to the level of a light sweat.

To avoid injury, it is essential to gradually build up the level of exercise you are doing, and to make sure you exercise all parts of your body.

For those of you who have a heart rate monitor (maybe on a Fitbit) sustaining a heart rate about 20-30 beats above your current resting heart should convey health and fitness benefits.

A good method here is to try and sing the lines of your favourite song. If you can do this, you probably need to work a little harder, but you should be able to talk at all times.

Time: 30-60 minutes. Time is often the biggest barrier to adopting a regular exercise regime. Whilst a lockdown may in theory offer an abundance of time, a few of our clients have quickly realised they may not be able to sustain 30-60 minutes of continuous exercise.

Do not worry; short rounds of 10 minutes 3-6 times a day are encouraged to help build you up.

Alternatively, you should look to work in a 1:1 ratio: 1-minute active, 1-minute active recovery. Do not be afraid to start low and build up time spent continuously exercising.

Type: This is where you have the most choice.

Choose something you like doing. Rhythmic aerobic exercise is probably the most accessible form of exercise. It might sound complicated, but the meaning is broad and is meant as a catch all including walking, dancing, general aerobics, and activities of daily living.

Do not under-estimate the physical activity involved in gardening, painting, hoovering, DIY, washing a car, hanging out washing and cleaning. All matter and all deliver health benefits.