Back at home

Cardiac rehab

The National Heart Foundation and the World Health Organisation recommend that everyone who’s had heart surgery should attend a cardiac rehab program. A good rehab program can reduce your risk of further problems. A team that includes a cardiologist, a physiotherapist, a psychologist, surgeons and nurses will direct the program.

Your rehab will probably take a few months. Daily exercise is scheduled with instructions about intensity and time. There are different types of rehab program. With some, instructions are given by smartphone, email or telephone. There are also inpatient programs, depending on where you live, where you go to the hospital's gym several days a week for supervised exercise.

Ask your cardiologist for a recommendation. The level of benefit we provide varies so contact us upfront to find out what you’re covered for.


You’ll probably be sent home with medications – this may include a drug to help prevent blood clots.

Lifestyle modifications

While it can’t be reversed, you may be able to slow the progress of coronary artery disease with lifestyle changes:

Achieving your ideal weight. Have a look at our 18-week Healthy Weight for Life weight loss program, which is specially designed for people living with heart conditions. It includes activity and portion-controlled eating plans, online tracking plus support via phone, SMS and email. The program is free to eligible HCF members with hospital cover.

If you smoke, this could be a good time to quit. Quitting smoking is the one thing that’ll have the biggest positive effect on your overall health. The free HCF Quit Smoking app can help you kick the habit.

Other changes that can reduce your risk include:

  • Eating healthy foods 
  • Being physically active 
  • Managing your blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol 
  • Reducing stress
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Taking care of your mental health.

Movement restrictions

After surgery, your chest incision will take 6 to 8 weeks to heal. During this time, be aware of the movements you make. Avoid lifting heavy things and making vigorous movements for 3 to 4 weeks. Avoid activities that require you to keep your arms above your shoulders, e.g. dusting a shelf or painting a wall. It’s okay to have sex, but avoid positions that cause chest pain or strain.

Walking and climbing stairs

You can walk and climb stairs as much as you can manage. At first, you’ll feel fatigue, but that should improve as the days go by. If the fatigue doesn’t improve, or if it appears at rest, alert your doctor.


You shouldn’t drive for the first 4 to 6 weeks. Strong painkillers can reduce your reflexes, so wait until you can manage without them. As a passenger, remember to wear your seat belt; you can use a towel or a small cushion to prevent friction with the stitches in your chest.

Returning to work

Usually, it's 6 to 8 weeks before you can go back to work. Consider a gradual return, working more time each day until you’re fully recovered.

Common complications

Pain is a very common complication, and it’s important that it’s managed well. Don’t try and tough it out, as pain can increase your recovery time. It can also cause breathing problems and give you anxiety. If you’re struggling, ask your doctor about improved pain management.

Fatigue. Shortness of breath and fatigue can be symptoms of heart failure. Always consult your doctor in this case.

Infection. To reduce your risk of infection, keep all the incision sites clean and dry. Signs of infection include redness, heat, swelling, discharge and increased pain. If you think any of the wounds might have become infected, contact your surgeon immediately.

Stitch removal

See your GP to have the stitches from your chest and graft sites removed 10 days after surgery.


Your surgeon will review your progress after 6 weeks.


Information is provided by HCF in good faith for the convenience of members. It is not an endorsement or recommendation of any form of treatment nor is it a substitute for medical advice, and you should rely on the advice of your treating doctors in relation to all matters concerning your health. Every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, however HCF takes no responsibility for any injury, loss, damage or other consequences of the use of this information.