Aerobic exercise could improve recovery after stroke



Rehabilitation for most stroke survivors rarely involves aerobic fitness. But new research suggests they might be missing out on a significant healing opportunity.

An analysis of 19 studies found stroke survivors who completed a group-based aerobic exercise program similar to widely available cardiac rehabilitation programs significantly improved their endurance and walking capacity. The analysis was published in Journal of the American Heart Association.

Stroke remains a leading cause of adult disability in the United States. Doctors often prescribe physical therapy. But survivors often fail to keep up with extended rehabilitation activity unless they have support, the analysis said.

“The physical therapy we currently provide to patients after a stroke focuses more on improving the ability to move and move well rather than on increasing how far and long you can move,” lead author Elizabeth Regan said in a news release. But “it doesn’t matter how well you can walk if your endurance level keeps you at home.”

Regan is a physical therapist and a doctoral candidate in exercise science at the University of South Carolina. Her research involved nearly 500 older adults in a dozen aerobic exercise programs that were similar in structure to cardiac rehabilitation, a program of exercise, education and counseling designed to help heart patients. Participants attended two to three sessions a week for about three months.

Overall, the exercise programs significantly improved stroke survivors’ endurance level and walking speed. They were able to walk on average almost half the size of a football field farther during a six-minute walking test. No control group was available for comparison, but participants with mild movement impairments benefited the most.

Mixed aerobic activity provided the best result, followed by walking. Cycling or recumbent stepping was the least effective but still significant. Participants benefited whether they started an aerobic exercise program one month or one year after their strokes, Regan said.

Study co-author Stacy Fritz, an associate professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina, said in the release, “Almost every hospital has a cardiac rehab program, so it’s an existing platform that could be used for stroke survivors. Funneling patients with stroke into these existing programs may be an easy, cost-effective solution with long-term benefits.”

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Stroke Rehabilitation

Making the Best Decisions at Discharge After Stroke

The type of rehabilitation and support systems a survivor receives at discharge can strongly influence health outcomes and recovery. In this, the first part of a two-part series on stroke rehab, we offer guidance for the decision-making process required when it’s time to leave the hospital.

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Following a stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type rehabilitation. In this second of our two-part series, we want to alleviate some of the mystery, fear and anxiety around the inpatient rehab part of the stroke recovery journey.
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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.

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

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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

Tips for Daily Living Library

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Stroke Family Warmline

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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.
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Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Occipital Lobe

Our occipital lobe, the smallest of the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, controls how we visually interpret our world.

When Stroke Affects the Cerebellum

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When Stroke Affects the Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe helps us make sense of sensory information, like where our bodies and body parts are in space, our sense of touch, and the part of our vision that deals with the location of objects.

When Stroke Affects the Frontal Lobe

Of the four lobes that make up the cerebral cortex, the frontal lobe is the largest. It plays a huge role in many of the functions that make us human — memory, language, movement, judgment, abstract thinking.

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.

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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.

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Helping Others Understand

Stroke affects people differently and many of the effects of stroke can be complicated. Helping friends and family understand how a stroke is affecting a survivor can help everyone involved.

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!