Exercise for Seniors After Heart Surgery



This week Sheldon asks, “hi, what kind of exercises can the elderly perform to improve their heart conditions after heart surgery or with PAD?”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America and there are over 500,000 coronary bypass procedures every year.  I see many seniors after open heart surgery, including bypass surgery and valve repair or replacement surgery. That is why exercise for seniors after heart surgery is so important.

By far the biggest complaint of these seniors is just how much fatigue and weakness they feel.  Heart surgery is a huge trauma to your body.  Right after surgery, your mind is in a fog, your energy level is very close to zero, and you may also have residual surgical pain, especially if the surgeon harvested your leg veins to replace your clogged heart vessels.

It is vital, that even though you feel very weak and uninspired to do anything, you need to begin increasing your activity level right away. Slowly at first, then gradually getting back to your former self as the weeks progress. This is the best way to get started with exercise for seniors after heart surgery.

In the hospital I encourage seniors to take a walk at least 4 times per day. This is a small walk of 100 to 300 feet only.  Make sure you are not pushing or pulling with any more than 5-10 pounds of force during the first 8-12 weeks after surgery.  This is most important when getting in and out of bed.  If it feels like you are lifting or pushing a gallon of milk, which is over 8 pounds, then you are using too much force. This is good to keep in mind with exercise for seniors after heart surgery.

Home exercise program

Once you are home, begin walking 3 times per day.  Remember, you are walking for your heart, so follow the guidelines from your hospital. Start with a 5 minute walk in the morning, before lunch, and before dinner. If you need to exercise after a meal, wait at least an hour to digest your meal so as not to compete with your heart.

You can then begin to increase your walks by 2 minutes per day as long as you are not experiencing any difficulty like shortness of breath or increased heart rate (20 beats per minute greater than your resting rate). When your walk eventually increases to 20 minutes, you can then reduce your walking to twice a day. And when you finally can walk a full 30 minutes at a time, you can then reduce your walking to once a day.

Hold off on any weight training exercises for the first 3 months to give yourself time to fully heal and recover. However, you can still keep limber with a few neck, arm, back and leg exercises.

  1. Neck rotation. Improve the range of motion of your shoulders and upper  back and Help increase flexibility in your chest and lungs.
  2. Shoulder Rolls: Improve the range of motion in your shoulder and upper back region. Will assist in keeping your rib muscles flexible. Help in activities like reaching up to a high shelf or across the table at dinner.
  3. Overhead Reach: Increase the range of motion in your shoulder and upper back with these arm stretches. Help improve your ability to reach, as in getting a pan out of the cabinet or ice cream out of the freezer.
  4. Shoulder and upper back stretch: Shoulder stretches to increases your shoulder and scapular range of motion. Stretches your chest and shoulder. Will make it easier to reach to that high shelf in your kitchen.
  5. Knee Extension: Strengthening your knees width knee strengthening exercises will improve your ability to stand and balance. This exercise will improve your available knee range of motion.
  6. Ankle Circles: This exercise improves your ankle flexibility and ability to move your ankle upward and downward. This is a great warm up exercise for the lower leg and feet.

You should be able to perform 3 to 5 repetitions of each exercise once or twice a day.  Make sure you find a kitchen chair without arms, place both feet on the floor, and lift your chest and chin. A good time to exercise is after your walks. By this time you will be warmed up and in great shape for exercise.  And as I always say, “Keep breathing!” Never hold your breath.

You can do it!

By following these guidelines for 3 months, you will be in great shape to get back to your normal exercise routine and resume your prior activities and hobbies. This will get you started on exercise for seniors after heart surgery.

About the Author

Doug Schrift is a Physical Therapist, Certified Geriatric Specialist, and senior fitness coach. Doug is the creator of Eldergym® Senior Fitness, which promotes safe, simple and effective exercise for seniors and the elderly.

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