Getting Your Brain Ready

Motorized cycling may prime brain for relearning after stroke




Exercise on a motorized stationary bike appeared to give stroke patients an advantage in relearning everyday tasks and improved motor function of their arms, according to research presented at the International Stroke Conference 2015.

Aerobic exercise has been shown to help the brain learn. The role of aerobic exercise in enhancing the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and form new connections has not been well studied.

Researchers theorized that aerobic exercise would "prime" the central nervous system to exploit the motor learning effects of task practice, said Susan Linder, P.T., D.P.T., N.C.S., a physical therapist at the Cleveland Clinic.

In a small study, researchers investigated what type of exercise might help stroke patients relearn everyday tasks and regain upper arm strength.

All patients were six to 12 months post-stroke and participated in upper extremity repetitive task practice to regain arm use such as how to hold a cup or fork or how to dress themselves.

In addition to repetitive task practice, patients were assigned to one of three groups: forced exercise using a motorized stationary bike, voluntary cycling on a stationary bike without a motor, or no aerobic exercise training but twice as much repetitive task practice time. All cycling sessions were 45 minutes long, followed immediately by the upper extremity repetitive task practice. Participants completed a total of 24 exercise sessions over two months.

Patients who exercised on the motorized stationary bike before their practice session experienced a 34 percent improvement in their motor skills compared with 16 percent improvement among those who cycled on their own and 17 percent for those who doubled up on task practices without aerobic exercise training.

"Forced exercise administered via a motor-assisted stationary bicycle may improve neuroplasticity," Linder said. The motorized bike helps patients with limited mobility to pedal and achieve and maintain the intensity of training necessary to have an impact on brain function. The cycling is not passive; participants must contribute to the activity in order to exercise within their target heart-rate range.

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Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has several functions, mainly involved with memory, perception and language.

When Stroke Affects the Brain Stem

The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain. When a stroke happens there, it can cause a few different deficits and, in the most severe cases, can lead to locked-in syndrome.

When Stroke Affects the Thalamus

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