Upper body exercise after heart surgery

I had my aortic valve replaced as well as an aneurysm repair I am almost 5 months post-op and am doing very well. I do cardiovascular exercise almost everyday, but I'd like to improve my upper body and core strength. I used to do push-ups, crunches, and light weights. I'm not sure what I can do now. Does anyone have any insight or resources they could suggest?


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Hi Dianna,

Were you able to take advantage of a cardiac rehab program? Strength training is an important part of mine. I had triple bypass about a year ago, so my situation is a bit different from valve replacement. The key issue for me, as explained by my cardiologist, is to avoid rapid increase in intracoronary blood pressure. This means no heavy weights with few repetitions. Light, free weights with many reps are fine, as long as I build up the amount of weight and reps slowly. My surgeon had said no upper body work at all for the first 3 months post surgery. I found that even very light weights were too much at 4-5 months post surgery. I started out using therabands and gradually progressed to free weights at about 7 months post surgery. We were taught to do crunches with your knees bent - it seems to put less stress on the heart. Wall push-ups were also part of the program. I do cardiovascular training almost every day - mostly running for 30-60 minutes. The upper body work is something that I need to focus on more. Hope this helps.

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Thanks for the imput. I am up to the 45 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular. I still can't run that long yet, but I'm getting there. I was going to do cardio rehab but at that time I was having terrible occular migraines almost daily and had to have someone else drive me. It became too imposing because I also needed help getting to my doctor's appointments. Luckily I have been able to get the migraines under control and have very few of them now.

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I was so excited to read this post! This is my kind of topic.

I just yesterday had this conversation with the folks at cardiac rehab. I am 2.5 months out from open-heart to repair an atrial septal defect. I've been working hard at my cardio regime since the week I had surgery, but of course have had to lay off upper body.

At about the 1 month post-surgical mark I started adding light weights to my cardio routine. I'd carry 2 lb weights while on the elliptical, and do a series of upper body exercises with weights while on a bike. Actually, now that I think about it, my real start was going through the motions of all the exercises but with no weight at all - just using my arm mass as resistance.

I'm now using 5 lb weights (which keep me right at my 10 lb limit!) three times a week in addition to 45-60 minutes cardio each day. I had a great experience getting on a rowing machine yesterday for the first time, which felt amazing. Really helped with all of the pain and stiffness I still have in my shoulders. I've been doing situps since around the 1 months mark and have had no problems.

The one prohibition I did get was not to lift directly over my head until I'm really confident that everything is well-healed. Of course, I think I maybe didn't get some of the cautions and restrictions that others may because my issue was so straightforward. They just had to close up a large hole and now tell me that I should be "cured".

I get cleared to lift over 10 lbs in another two weeks. Really can't wait. Going to feel amazing to lift up my kiddos again. I'm not anywhere close to being ready for planks or true pushups, and I think I'll be very nervous to try them when the time comes.

One more thing: Artiste, it helps to hear that you are running for up to an hour. I'm managing 3 miles, now, but confess that it's tough. I'm trying to complete a very hilly Vermont 10K in the next couple of months. We'll see!

Good luck. Nice to connect with some surgery patients who are serious about exercise.

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Glad to hear that you discovered the rowing machine. It's a great exercise. I use it at rehab as an alternative to running on other days. It's super for upper body and core abdominal muscles while not putting a lot of stress on the joints.

Yes, the exercise is so important. I ran a 5k on Thanksgiving with the whole family. I ran the whole way - it was a wonderful accomplishment to be thankful for. I find that I can't run as fast as I used to, but I'm working on gradual improvement. A heart rate monitor during exercise has been essential for me - which probably isn't so key for other situations.

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Well, now I know why I've been struggling a bit. My pericardial effusion is back. :( Love my doc, though, and am confident that we'll get it under control. If the drugs aren't working by Monday, there's an outpatient surgical option that sounds totally manageable.

It's all a process. Some day that 10K is going DOWN!

Good luck.


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Thanks for you input. I need to come up with a routine for myself. I've got cardio down although I'm sill struggling with running non-stop for even a mile. It's strange because I can use my elliptical for and hour at the highest setting and I feel great. Oh well. Lauren, I hope everything has gone well with the pericardial effusion.


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Thank you for this post! I start my cardiac rehab today and I am so ready and excited! I am exactly 2 months post op today!!! I still have some clicking and popping in my sternum so I'm scared to life anything but at least it is not as bad as 2 weeks ago!!

My goal is to run a 5K before years end.. I've NEVER been a runner but I want to be.. was headed that way prior to my first MI last sept... now I am "cured" and on my way!

Thanks again


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