Assuming you mean after "open-heart" surgery, then the answer is almost immediately.
Walking is the best form of exercise after heart surgery. Another assumption is that you have had a sternotomy for the surgery. In this case it is crucial to 'protect' the sternal healing by avoiding exercises that disrupt or 'pull' apart the sternotomy wound closure. Weight-bearing exercises are generally limited to after your postoperative review by the heart surgeon.
For example, in my practice, I routinely review my patients 6-weeks following surgery. I would expect patients to be engaged in daily walking exercises after their hospital discharge. If the sternum is healing well at the postop review then I encourage patients to transition slowly to weight-bearing exercises/activities as tolerated by the level of comfort.
Outpatient cardiac rehabilitation is offered some weeks after the surgery and is a great resource to guide you through the recovery phase.
It is critical that patients are given the correct level of expectation for what to feel depending on what they do, and at what point in time. For example, as you progress back into your usual levels of activity in the months after surgery, it is not uncommon to have fluctuating levels of discomfort during this period. Overall, the trend should improve week by week.
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