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Exercise Therapy After Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery

author image Meg Brannagan
Meg Brannagan has worked as a registered nurse for more than 10 years, specializing in women's and children's health. She holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Exercise Therapy After Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery
You may need cardiac rehabilitation following a coronary artery bypass graft. Photo Credit Barry Austin/Digital Vision/Getty Images

The heart muscle, like other muscles in the body, needs regular conditioning to perform at its best. People with coronary artery disease run the risk of losing heart muscle when the tissue is destroyed by lack of blood flow to the heart. During coronary artery disease, the small blood vessels that surround the heart become blocked with plaque due to atherosclerosis. One form of treatment is a surgical procedure to reroute the blood around the blocked vessels. Following surgery, a rehabilitation program involving exercise therapy may be necessary to get the heart in shape again.


A coronary artery bypass graft, or CABG, is a type of surgery that can establish blood flow to portions of the heart that may not be receiving adequate blood supply due to blocked vessels. During a CABG, a surgeon takes a blood vessel from another part of the body and sews it onto the surface of the heart. The blood is routed through this new blood vessel, and the blockage is bypassed. This restores blood flow to the potentially damaged areas of the heart. As many as four blood vessels may be bypassed during a CABG.

Breathing Exercises

You may have some pain following a CABG procedure, and your first inclination may be to take shallow breaths to avoid deep breathing. Deep breathing exercises are important, though, as they open the air sacs at the base of the lungs. Try to take a deep breath several times per hour in the first few days following surgery. You may be given a small machine called an incentive spirometer that can help you track the volume of each of your breaths. By breathing deeply, you help keep the air sacs, called alveoli, in your lungs open, reducing the opportunity for infection to develop.

Exercise Therapy

Approximately two weeks following your surgery, you may begin cardiac rehabilitation. You may start by walking for short intervals after you go home from the hospital. Once you start cardiac rehabilitation, you may start walking on a treadmill, climbing stairs or using a stationary bike for exercise. These types of exercise cause the heart to beat faster, which strengthens the heart and helps the healing process. After a few weeks, you may continue exercising in greater amounts on your own. According to Alegent Health, within six weeks of a CABG, you may begin exercise therapy such as golfing, swimming or tennis. Within eight weeks, you may resume such activities as skiing; horseback riding and running if cleared to do so by your physician.


Follow the instructions given to you by your doctor for exercise levels following a CABG procedure. Avoid lifting weights or other objects greater than 20 lb., and do not pull or push anything heavy. Slowly increase your activity levels without pushing yourself too far. You may consider performing light chores around the house; but avoid more strenuous activities, such as mowing or gardening, until you have received approval from your physician. If you are exercising and you feel chest pain or shortness of breath, contact your doctor immediately.

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