Rehabbing Body & Mind

Exercise can significantly improve brain function after stroke



Structured exercise training can significantly improve brain function in stroke survivors, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2017.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, and the leading cause of long-term disability. Studies estimate that up to 85 percent of people who suffer a stroke will have cognitive impairments, including deficits in executive function, attention and working memory. Because there are no drugs to improve cognitive function, physical activity — such as physical therapy, aerobic and strength training — has become a low-cost intervention to treat cognitive deficits in stroke survivors.

In a meta-analysis of 13 intervention trials that included 735 participants, researchers analyzed the effects of various types of physical activity on cognitive function among stroke survivors. They found that structured physical activity training significantly improved cognitive deficits regardless of the length of the rehabilitation program (i.e., training longer than three months as well as from one to three months.)

The researchers also found that cognitive abilities can be enhanced even when physical activity is introduced in the chronic stroke phase (beyond three months after a stroke).

“Physical activity is extremely helpful for stroke survivors for a number of reasons, and our findings suggest that this may also be a good strategy to promote cognitive recovery after stroke,” said lead author Lauren E. Oberlin, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. “We found that a program as short as 12 weeks is effective at improving cognition, and even patients with chronic stroke can experience improvement in their cognition with an exercise intervention.”

The researchers analyzed general cognitive improvement, as well as improvement specific to areas of higher order cognition: executive function, attention and working memory. Exercise led to selective improvements on measures of attention and processing speed.

The researchers also examined whether cognitive improvements depended on the type of physical activity patients engaged in. Previous studies on healthy aging and dementia populations have found that aerobic exercise by itself is enough to improve cognition, but the effects are increased when combined with an activity such as strength training. Consistent with this work, the authors found that combined strength and aerobic training programs yielded the largest cognitive gains.

“Integrating aerobic training into rehabilitation is very important, and for patients with mobility limitations, exercise can be modified so they can still experience increases in their fitness levels,” Oberlin said. “This has substantial effects on quality of life and functional improvement, and I think it’s really important to integrate this into rehabilitative care and primary practice.”

 

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AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

When faced with challenges recovering from heart disease or stroke, it’s important to have emotional support. That is why we created a network to connect patients and loved ones with others during their journey.

Stroke Family Warmline

The Warmline connects stroke survivors and their families with an ASA team member who can provide support, helpful information or just a listening ear.

Let's Talk About Stroke Patient Information Sheets

Let's Talk About Stroke is a series of downloadable patient information sheets, created by the American Stroke Association, that presents information in a question-and-answer format that's brief, easy to follow and easy to read.

Request Free Stroke Information Packets

Fill out this online form to request free information about a variety of post-stroke topics.

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

The Caregiver Guide to Stroke is meant to help caregivers better navigate the recovery process and the financial and social implications of a stroke.

Tips for Daily Living Library

This volunteer-powered library gathers tips and ideas from stroke survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals all over the country who’ve created or discovered adaptive and often innovative ways to get things done!

Stroke Support Group Finder

To find a group near you, simply enter your ZIP code and a mile radius. If your initial search does not pull up any groups, try
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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

The thalamus can be thought of as a "relay station," receiving signals from the brain’s outer regions (cerebral cortex), interpreting them, then sending them to other areas of the brain to complete their job.
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Departments

Stroke Notes

Stroke-related news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.

Readers Room

Articles, poems and art submitted by stroke survivors and their loved ones.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These stroke survivors, caregivers and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Everyday Survival

Practical tips and advice for day-to day living after stroke.

Life At The Curb

A unique perspective on survival by comedian and stroke survivor John Kawie.

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.

Support Showcase

Our new department highlighting the good work being done by stroke support groups from around the nation. If you are part of a successful support group we should consider featuring, let us know!