At-home Exercises for Stroke Survivors

Woman sitting in chair stretching arms above her head

Exercise is a valuable yet underused component for post-stroke care. The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association suggests that survivors should be prescribed exercise because they experience physical deconditioning and often lead inactive lifestyles after stroke. That decreases their ability to perform daily living activities and increases their risk of another stroke.

There is strong evidence that physical activity and exercise after stroke can improve cardiovascular fitness, walking ability and upper arm strength as well as improving depression, cognitive function, memory and quality of life after stroke.

Following are a few exercises for stroke survivors to help with everything from balance & walking to fine motor skills, complete with video instructions.

Sit to Stand

This is a great exercise to strengthen the muscles of your legs. It’s vital for getting up from a seated position.

To perform this exercise you want a firm, stable surface. Either a chair or your bed. Start by getting to the edge of the surface. Keep your feet hip-width distance apart. Your feet need to be slightly behind your knees. Interlace your fingers, trying to get your nose over your toes when you stand up. Focus on maintaining equal weight on your affected and unaffected leg. As you do this, with your nose over your toes, stand up, getting your hips and your knees fully extended.

From this standing position, slowly lower down into the chair and repeat this exercise 15 to 20 times again, slowly lowering down each time.

Supported Mini Squats

This is a great exercise to strengthen the muscles of your legs to help with walking, endurance when walking and rising up from a seated position.

To perform this exercise, you’re going to need a stable surface. Whether it be a countertop or a chair, you’re going to face the surface — keeping your hips, your knees and your feet all in alignment. Make sure that your weight is equally distributed over your affected and unaffected leg.

As you perform this exercise, make sure that your hips go backwards and your knees do not go over your toes. You should start to feel fatigue and burning in your leg muscles. Perform this exercise 15 to 20 times.

Dynamic Weight Shifts

This is a great exercise to work on weight shifting, balance and core control.

To perform this exercise, you’re going to be sitting upright in a chair. To make this exercise more difficult, do it on a less stable surface such as a ball, a couch or putting a piece of foam underneath the chair.

Once seated, you’re going to shift your weight to one side and then the other. Make sure that the side you’re shifting your weight to becomes long through your trunk and short on the other side. Repeat this exercise 20 to 30 times.

Crumbling a Piece of Paper

This exercise is great for working on the muscles of your shoulder and also works on the fine motor skills of your hands.

To perform this exercise you’re going to need a piece of paper and a hard surface, such as a table. Crumple the paper with both hands. When you’re crumpling the paper, make sure that you use both hands equally. That’s very important with this. Don’t just crumple it with your unaffected arm. When you are crumpling it, keep your shoulders down and back. Your shoulders shouldn’t come up toward your ears. Now uncrumple the paper, keeping your shoulder blades down and back and using both hands equally.

Supported Reach and Grasp

This is a great exercise for the muscles of your shoulder, elbow and wrist. It’s also a great exercise if you’re having difficulty reaching out in front of you for an object.

To perform this exercise, sit in a chair at a table, your affected arm resting on the table. Your shoulder blade should be down and back. From this position, reach out like you’re grasping an imaginary object and bring it back in. You want to focus on straightening your elbow and then extending your fingers at the end of the exercise. As you come back, you bend your elbow and make a fist. Repeat this exercise 20 times or until the muscles of your arms become fatigued.

Sitting Trunk Rotations with Active Assistive Range of Motion Shoulder

This is an exercise that can be performed to help with weight shifting that will facilitate balance and walking control in the future.

To perform this exercise, interlace your hands. Take them down towards your left foot and then reach up towards your right shoulder. Try to keep your elbow straight in the up position. Make sure your eyes and your trunk follow your hands. Repeat this exercise eight to ten times on one side and then do the same thing on the other.

This exercise requires a great deal of sitting balance. To ensure safety, the caregiver should stand in front of you and facilitate your arm motion.

Standing Hip Abduction with Support

This exercise strengthens the muscles of your hip and leg and works on weight shifts for better control during walking.

To perform this exercise, face a countertop or another stable surface. Use your arms for support on that stable surface and lift your leg out to the side, making sure that your trunk is upright and that you avoid leaning over. Keep your pelvis level. Don’t let it rotate to the side. Repeat this exercise 10 to 12 times on the right side then switch sides and repeat it another 10 to 12 times.

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Stroke Rehabilitation

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AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

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Caregiver Guide to Stroke

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Request Free Stroke Information Packets

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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.

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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