Senior woman lifts small weights from bed after open heart surgery

Lifting Weights After Open Heart Surgery—When, Why, How?

How to gently regain your fitness after open heart surgery—everything you need to know

One of the first questions you might have about recovering from open heart surgery is when you can get back to your normal fitness routine, especially if it includes lifting weights. If you’re asking “When Can I Lift Weights After Open Heart Surgery”, you aren’t far from the answers you’re looking for.

Benefits of Exercise After Open Heart Surgery

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your heart, and your overall health, after open heart surgery. Exercise can help you:

  • Improve your blood flow & oxygen delivery to your heart & other organs
  • Lower your blood pressure & cholesterol levels, which reduces your risk of having another heart problem
  • Strengthen your heart so it’s more efficient and resilient
  • Improve your mood, energy & quality of life
  • Prevent or manage other health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, or depression

But that’s not all. Exercise is not only good for your physical health, it is also good for your mental and emotional health. Exercise can help you cope with the stress and anxiety that often accompany open heart surgery. A healthy mindset focused on recovery can have an incredible impact on when you can get back to lifting weight and other activities after open heart surgery. Here’s a full body strength exercise—with PDF—for when you’re back to full capacity.

Risks of Lifting Heavy Weights After Open Heart Surgery

You may want to get back to lifting weights as soon as possible after open heart surgery, but there are risks involved. Some of the risks of lifting heavy weights after open heart surgery are:

  • Increased pressure on your heart valves—which can damage them or cause them to leak or malfunction
  • Chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fainting—which can indicate a heart attack or a cardiac arrest
  • Bleeding, infection, or tearing of your chest incision—which can delay your healing and increase your risk of complications
  • Developing a hernia—which is a bulge or protrusion of an organ or tissue through a weak spot in your abdominal wall

That’s why it’s important you don’t rush back into lifting weights after open heart surgery.

Senior man lifts weights after open heart surgery

When Can I Lift Weights After Open Heart Surgery?

In the first 6 to 8 weeks, you should be taking it very easy and avoiding any lifting where possible. Stay in touch with your doctor and make sure to follow any cardiac rehabilitation program before and during any exercise regimen to help get you back to lifting weights after open heart surgery. For a list of other exercises that should be avoided as you age – click or tap here.

Tips For Safe Weight Lifting After Open Heart Surgery

Strength training is still possible and beneficial after open heart surgery, as long as you do it safely and effectively. Here are some tips on how to start and progress your strength training program after open heart surgery:

  • Start with light weights & low repetitions then gradually increase them as you get stronger & more comfortable. A good rule of thumb is to use weights that you can lift for 12 to 15 repetitions without straining or holding your breath.
  • Focus on your form & technique and avoid jerky or explosive movements. Use smooth & controlled motions and breathe normally throughout the exercise.
  • Include exercises that target all the major muscle groups of your body, such as your arms, legs, chest, back, shoulders & core. You can use a variety of equipment, such as dumbbells, elastic bands, or your own body weight. 
  • Do strength training 2 to 3 times a week, on non-consecutive days. Allow at least 48 hours of rest between each session, to give your muscles time to recover and grow. Help those 48 hours fly by with this list of incredible movies.
  • Listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain, discomfort, or fatigue. Monitor your heart rate, blood pressure & symptoms, and report any changes or concerns to your doctor or your cardiac rehabilitation team.

You may be chomping at the bit to get back to exercising after open heart surgery, or any other major surgery, but rushing can do more harm than good. While there will be a short time where you should not exercise at all, being aware of the risks and focusing on small gentle exercises will help you know when you can get back to lifting weights after open heart surgery. For some guidance through a gentle strength training program you’ll want to sign up for this gentle 7 Days of Chair Pilates for Mobility & Strengthening Class.