Changes to Make Before and After Heart Surgery

By John D Day MD

Many people manage their disease with medication, diet, and exercise alone, but sometimes surgery for heart disease is necessary. If heart surgery is in your future, you can prepare a bit with lifestyle changes.

how to maintain a healthy heart

Overall good nutrition is vital for us to be healthy, prevent many diseases and feel good, and is especially important for our hearts as heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. Many people manage their disease with medication, diet, and exercise alone, but sometimes surgery for heart disease is necessary. If heart surgery is in your future, you can prepare a bit with lifestyle changes.

  • First, quit smoking. Smoking inhibits the body’s ability to heal.
  • Second, if you have diabetes, make sure that you keep your blood sugars well controlled; high blood sugar also makes it hard for our bodies to heal.
  • Finally, you want to be well nourished before going in for surgery. Our bodies get stressed when we are ill or have surgeries and it’s very important to have good nutrition before your surgery to help you heal faster after your surgery. If you’re eating normally and following any guidelines your doctor or dietitian has given you, then keep at it. If you find that you’ve had a poor appetite, haven’t been eating normally and maybe have lost some weight, try finding foods that you can eat or use supplement drinks such as Ensure so you can get the calories and protein that your body needs. You don’t want to be on a strict weight loss diet before surgery, so if you’ve been really cutting back on calories and are losing weight really fast, you may want to add a little more food and make your weight loss slower – about half a pound a week or so.

After your surgery, you want to make sure to have good nutrition, as well. If you’ve had a major surgery such as open heart surgery, your body will need a bit more protein and enough calories to heal. It can be hard because you may be on medications that affect your appetite. When our bodies heal from a wound, they need extra “supplies” (i.e. protein and calories) and if they don’t get what they need from what we feed ourselves, they will take it from the muscle stores we already have. It’s kind of like fixing a wall that’s been torn down in your house; you don’t take wood and sheetrock from other walls to rebuild it, you go to Home Depot and buy the supplies you need so the whole structure stays strong.

Your diet after surgery may also need to change to keep your heart healthy. Eating less saturated fat (usually the fat that comes from animal sources) will help keep your cholesterol in check, and cutting out as much transfat from your diet will also help your cholesterol. (Transfat is in stick margarine, cookies from the store, and other products. You want to look for any type of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils on the list of ingredients and just skip those foods). Since our bodies still need fat, you’ll need to trade those unhealthier fats for some healthier ones from foods like olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fatty fish. A low sodium diet is also recommended because too much salt can cause changes in our bodies that put stress on our hearts. Ideally you’ll also want to add lots more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; these foods not only help with overall health, but also with our hearts. The DASH diet (find more about the DASH diet here) follows all of these recommendations and can be a guide to help you figure out what to eat. Be sure to get the physical activity and exercise your doctor recommends, stay away from smoking, keep your blood sugar in good control, and do things that make you happy and help you get rid of stress.