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Continue to reduce risk factors


Regardless of the type of heart surgery you had, it is important to protect your heart after surgery. Making heart healthy choices is one of the key ways to do this. If you are thinking about making changes to your eating habits, start with small changes and set realistic goals for yourself. Remember, even small changes make a difference over time!

General tips for heart healthy eating:

  • Enjoy balanced meals with a wide variety of foods
  • Choose low-fat foods such as lean cuts of meat, skinless poultry, and skim or 1% dairy products
  • Use plants oils (e.g. olive oil, canola oil), in moderation, for cooking
  • Choose heart healthy cooking methods, such as barbequing, grilling, stir-frying, roasting, steaming, poaching, microwaving, etc.
  • Avoid commercially baked products that have been prepared with hydrogenated oils or shortening (check ingredient list and nutrition labels)
  • Enjoy fish 2 - 3 times per week
  • Enjoy 1 - 2 tbsp of ground flaxseed per day
  • Enjoy nuts or nut butters, especially almonds and walnuts, in moderation (ie. Limit to 1 - 2 Tbsp per day)
  • Enjoy high fibre foods, such as colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, high-fibre cereals and breads, and legumes (e.g. beans, chickpeas, lentils)
  • Replace salt with fresh or dried herbs and seasonings while cooking or at the table.
  • Avoid foods that have been processed, canned, in brine, or pickled. 
  • Avoid salt substitutes.

The dietitian teaches group nutrition classes on heart healthy eating after surgery, and can provide individual teaching at your bedside (upon your request).


Ask your family doctor if you can have alcohol after your surgery. Individuals who have high triglycerides should avoid having alcohol on a regular basis. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood that makes the blood thicker and increases the risk for it to clot. High triglycerides are often a result of excess fat, alcohol, and sugar intake. If you are unsure about your triglyceride levels, ask your family doctor.

Blood pressure

High blood pressure puts a strain on your heart and increases the speed that plaque forms in your arteries.

Make sure you:

  • Have your blood pressure checked every 6 months.
  • Take medications as directed for your high blood pressure.
  • Minimize sodium (salt) intake in food.
  • Exercise regularly.

Do not smoke

Since you have given up smoking while in hospital, stick to it! If you have been smoking for years, please do not be discouraged. By stopping smoking you will, over a period of time, reduce your risks of coronary artery disease to the level of a non-smoker.


  • Increases the heart rate
  • Narrows blood vessels
  • Raises blood pressure
  • Scars the lungs
  • Causes spasms of the coronary arteries
  • Second hand smoke can cause the same effects

Exercise regularly

Even if you are getting enough rest, you may still feel tired. In the first two weeks this may come from the healing process or from a low blood count. Take one day at a time and don't get discouraged. Your recovery will be gradual and it will take a while for you to regain your strength. Measure your progress weekly, not daily, to get a good indication of how you are doing.

The best way to overcome fatigue is to gradually and steadily increase your activity level. The benefits of regular exercise include:
  • Strengthening the heart muscle
  • Increasing your energy
  • Elevating your mood (helping you manage stress)
  • Reducing obesity
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Increasing resistance to heart attack
  • After heart surgery, all patients receive a gentle exercise program that is outlined by a physiotherapist
As you feel stronger, you can progress to other conditioning exercises. It is recommended that patients attend a cardiac rehabilitation program after surgery. Sunnybrook has a direct referral link with the Toronto Cardiac Rehabilitation Centre. If this is not convenient for you, your physiotherapist will give you the name of a rehabilitation program closest to your home.