Swimming After Heart Surgery – Good or Bad Idea?

As a follow-up to my recent blog about cardiac rehabilitation exercises, Tony just asked me, “Is it okay to swim after open heart surgery? Do you swim? If so, how long did you wait to go swimming after your aortic valve replacement?”

Thanks Tony! These questions just brought back a flood of wonderful memories specific to my recovery from valve surgery.

So you know, I am a fish out-of-water. I’ve been lucky to live near a pool and/or a beach my entire life. As a kid, I was a swim-a-holic. At the age of three, I was racing in meets against six year-olds. In fact, here is a picture that my mom recently found.

Adam Pick Swimming Before Heart Surgery At 2 Years Of Age
Adam – Three Years Old Swimming (Before Heart Surgery)

As I got older, I continued to swim, snorkle and scuba dive. One of my favorite places to scuba dive is Cancun, Mexico. Here is a picture of me just minutes after a summer dive. (The water was so warm, I didn’t need a wetsuit and I was down about 80 feet under water.)

In fact, leading up to my heat valve replacement surgery, I was swimming three times a week – about forty laps each workout. That said, you can imagine I was very excited to get back in the pool following my Ross Procedure surgery. To learn more about my operation, click here.

I was sooooooo excited to swim again, I wrote my family an email the day I got back into the water at Spectrum Health Club in Manhattan Beach, California. Here is that email:

Family – Just letting you all know that I swam today for the first time in 16 weeks!!! What a tremendous feeling to do the breast stroke for three laps!!! Love, Ad

This email was sent four months after my heart surgery. That should help you contemplate how long it took me to swim after heart surgery. However, you should know and remember, that each patient recovery is unique. While it took me sixteen weeks to swim again, it might take another patient shorter or longer.

I hope that helps you better understand my experience relative to swimming and heart surgery. Here is one final picture of Robyn (my wife) and I swimming on our honeymoon. We are in Fiji having time time of our lives. I was 18 months post-op in this photo.

Patient Swiming After Heart Surgery

In my opinion, the Cleveland Clinic should establish an “annex” of their heart care center in Fiji. That way, we could go to Fiji, have surgery, and then recover amongst the coconuts, the beautiful setting and the peaceful Fijian culture!!! 🙂

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

  • Sandy

    My husband had 2 carotid and 3 procedures in his heart in 6 days, including a repair of his mitral valve. He is a very active 66 yr. old. It has been only 3 1/2 months since surgery, we swam a month ago, then it got cool so we have not swam since. Yesterday he swam and felt like he had gone backwards, as if there was a lot of pressure on his lungs and he was short of breath. We play tennis daily, walk and are doing light weights. Is this normal and have others expierenced the shortness of breath afterwards? Is he maybe trying to ‘recoup’ too fast? His is a ….. want it and want it now, person’….. and is having a hard time to understand the time it takes. We live in Mexico and there is no rehab place so we are doing it ourselves. Any help would be wonderful!!!


  • John J. Callahan

    Shoot! At 43, I am a lifelong swimmer. I had robotic assisted heart valve repair three weeks ago at the Cleveland Clinic. I am restless in my recovery and dream of returning to vigorous practice with my beloved Masters swim team. Alas, I participated in a bit of light yoga two days ago, and my shoulder is on fire. It appears my full recovery is still a ways off. Dang, I’m sore.

  • Tami Moreno

    Adam – I had open heart surgery (aortic replacement) on June 24, 2016 – so almost 6 weeks ago. My incision appears closed – but I’m not sure how to tell for sure – there could be little holes that I can’t see. I don’t swim like you – but do you know if it would be safe at this point for me to get in the water (Lake Michigan)? We are headed to see our son this weekend who is, of course, a camp counselor on the Lake. I have MISSED the water the entire summer and was hoping to at least get in the water once before I lose the opportunity this summer. Thanks for any advice you can give me. It sounds like you had to wait WAY longer than this so I’m doubtful – but I thought it was worth asking. Of course I don’t see my cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic until the day AFTER we get back from the lake 🙁

  • LPMBB1815 McFadyen

    Hello all-I’m seven weeks out from AVR and CABG X4 surgery, and would like to use swimming to help rehabilitate myself. I came here to see when others started and how they are doing.
    I guess I would start off just running and just swimming using the legs. I wouldn’t use my arms too much because the sternum and ribs are still a bit sore when stretched a bit. The wounds on the arm and leg have healed well and the new valve is functioning well.
    Obviously, common sense must prevail. I’ll talk to the cardiac nurse about it at rehab tomorrow. Might get a special needs concession for the pool. That’ll help.

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