People who suffer a stroke or TIA (Transient Ischaemic Attack), often called a ‘mini-stroke’, have a higher risk of suffering a full stroke in the future. In fact, around 30% of all strokes are recurrent (1). But the amount of exercise you do, could limit the risk. As well as being beneficial for preventing a first stroke, 30 minutes of regular physical activity can help reduce the chance of a stroke happening again. (2)

Exercise could provide protective benefits against stroke

After a stroke, people are less likely to take part in regular exercise due to poor balance, reduced mobility and weaker muscle strength. (3) But research shows physical activity is a useful tool in rehabilitation. Experts recommend that stroke survivors should undertake strength, flexibility and coordination training, such as weights and yoga, to improve their outcome. (4)

Training two to three times a week reduces the risk of stroke

Despite debates over the optimal length and intensity of exercise, the general consensus is physical activity can be beneficial in preventing further strokes. Taking part in regular exercise two to three times a week, for 20 minutes to 1 hour each time, helps to improve overall physical ability, general walking and independence, while also reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. (4)

Physical activity after stroke can improve brain function

Cognitive problems are very common after stroke. Problems with hand-to-eye coordination, concentration or memory can be incredibly frustrating for the stroke survivor and their family. But some reports suggest exercise can play a critical role in improving brain function, post-stroke, particularly when a structured exercise program is implemented for several weeks after the initial event. (5)

Aerobic exercises help to prevent further attacks

As each stroke survivor’s experience, age and disability is different, making recommendations for physical activity is difficult. But aerobic activity as part of stroke rehabilitation has been shown to optimize heart and brain benefits as well as reducing the risk of recurrent events. (4) Exercise that gets the heart pumping improves blood flow to every organ of the body, which helps to reduce the chance of narrowing arteries and blood clots that can lead to stroke.

There are several ways to adapt exercises after stroke

Many stroke survivors won’t be able to return to the same level of physical activity they enjoyed previously. But even a small amount of regular exercise can help keep minds and bodies healthy. Switching to seated activities, such as stationary cycling, is a good way to overcome balance issues, while martial arts, such as Tai Chi, that focus on slow, coordinated movements, are good for improving concentration and balance.

References:

1. Thom T, Haase N, Rosamond W, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2006 Update: a report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Circulation. 2006;113(6):e85–e151

2. Rimmer JH, Rauworth AE, Wang EC, Nicola TL, Hill B. A preliminary study to examine the effects of aerobic and therapeutic (Nonaerobic) exercise on cardiorespiratory fitness and coronary risk reduction in stroke survivors. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2009;90(3):407–412.

3. Saunders DH, Greig CA, Young A, Mead GE. Physical fitness training for stroke patients. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2004;(1) Article ID CD003316

4. Gordon NF, Gulanick M, Costa F, et al. Physical activity and exercise recommendations for stroke survivors: an American Heart Association scientific statement from the Council on Clinical Cardiology, Subcommittee on Exercise, Cardiac Rehabilitation, and Prevention; the Council on Cardiovascular Nursing; the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism; and the Stroke Council. Stroke. 2004;35(5):1230–1240

5. Lauren E. Oberlin, MS; Aashna M. Waiwood, BS; Toby B. Cumming, PhD; Anna L. Marsland, PhD; Julie Bernhardt, PhD; Kirk I. Erickson, PhD. Effects of Physical Activity on Poststroke Cognitive Function. Stroke. 2017;48:3093-3100. DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.117.017319.

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