5 Strategies for Heart Healthy Choices After Surgery
Surgery can be an important step toward regaining your mobility and quality of life, but the journey doesn’t end when you leave the hospital or surgery center. Recovery may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months or longer, and the choices you make during this time can impact how long it takes your body to heal. Use these heart-healthy tips to promote healing and feel your best during your recovery and beyond.
Put your mental health first.
Recovery from surgery can be mentally and emotionally challenging. Your life will look different as you wait for your body to heal, and it may be a while until you truly start feeling like yourself again. That can bring up some complicated emotions. Frustration, anxiety, and depression after surgery are common, which is why it’s so important to care for your mental health during your recovery.
Here’s the good news: making heart-healthy choices to exercise and eat right can also help with your post-surgery mental health. Physical activity is linked to improved brain health, better sleep, and a lower risk of anxiety and depression. And the same foods that help boost heart health and power your recovery may also reduce symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions.
Stay active within limits.
Exercise is necessary for both physical and heart health. However, after surgery, it’s important to listen to your doctor’s guidelines on the level and type of activity you can engage in. You should be able to sit, stand, and walk around soon after your surgery (usually on the same day), but you’ll probably need to stay away from some activities for a while, such as:
Returning to work
Climbing stairs or ladders
Walking long distances
Sports and other intense exercise
Your doctor will tell you how long you need to wait before adding these activities back to your routine. After surgery, your goal is to protect your body as it heals, and pushing yourself too hard during recovery may increase your risk of complications and reinjury.
As you start to feel better, you may be tempted to push yourself with more exercise, housework, or other responsibilities. Try not to do too much before you’re ready. It may not be easy, but if you want to get back to normal as soon as possible, you’ll need to practice patience and let your body heal. Gradually increasing activity levels, as advised by your doctor, helps strike a balance between promoting heart health and aiding recovery.
Rethink your workout.
Taking it slow doesn’t mean stopping completely. It may be a while until your body can handle the American Heart Association’s recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, but it’s still important to get plenty of physical activity during your recovery.
You’ll start things off simply with some light walking. Depending on your surgery, you may be able to walk the day of or the day after your procedure. Walking multiple times a day, especially in the beginning of your recovery, can help decrease your risk of complications and promote healing by:
Increasing blood flow
Strengthening muscle tone
Helping bowel and bladder function return to normal
As you heal, you’ll be able to slowly increase your walking distance and add more exercises to your workouts. If you were active before your surgery, you may have to reimagine your workout for a few weeks or months as you rebuild your flexibility, strength, and endurance. (And if you weren’t very active before your procedure, your recovery is a great time to introduce heart-healthy physical activity into your daily routine.) This may look like:
Opting for low-impact cardio, such as swimming, rowing, cycling, yoga, or Pilates, instead of running or jogging
Using smaller weights or lighter resistance exercises when strength training
Focusing on stretching and exercising the core muscles in your back and abdomen
Prioritizing physical therapy exercises
Remember, any exercise is better for your heart than no exercise at all. Focus on doing what you can, and look at this as your chance to explore different workouts as you regain your strength and mobility.
Focus on nutrition.
Even though your exercise is limited after surgery, you can still care for your heart health by eating a nutritious, balanced diet during your recovery. Since you may not be getting as much physical activity as you’re used to, it’s even more important to limit things that can increase your risk of heart disease, including salt (sodium) and saturated or trans fats. Instead, opt for heart-healthy foods that can help your body heal, such as:
Vitamin C sources (broccoli, bell peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes, spinach)
Other key nutrients that help promote healing include vitamin C, zinc, and iron.
Take your time.
Try to be kind to yourself during this time. Everyone heals at their own pace, and recovery can’t be rushed. Take care of yourself by eating healthy foods, getting physical activity when you can, and reaching out to your surgeon if you have any questions or issues.
Carrum Health is a benefit provided by employers to help employees get the best possible care. Covered procedures vary by employer and may not be accessible to all employees.