The importance of exercise in stroke recovery

We all know that exercise can play an important role in keeping us healthy. The old ‘use it or lose it’ adage generally rings true for most of us each year as we age. And most of us know exercise to be a vital factor in physical injury recovery. Now, as scientific research continues to evolve, we are discovering just how important exercise is in aiding recovery from internal trauma. The latest research has found a link between exercise and stroke recovery.

In fact, a new study published in the Journal of the American Association focused on just this topic. The results proved very promising. The three authors of the study, based in Sweden, used a single question as their starting point. “In the first six months after a stroke, is there an association between physical activity trajectories and functional recovery?”

To tease out the answer they analysed the data of 1367 individuals aged 65 to 79, with a median age of 72. They were “stratified into two physical activity trajectory groups of increaser and decreaser”, in terms of post-stroke physical activity.

Participants who sustained a light-intensity physical activity to the six-month point were classed as ‘increasers’. The ‘decreaser’ group included people who showed a decline in physical activity and eventually became inactive within six months.

The analysis suggested that increased and sustained activity post-stroke was associated with a good functional outcome at six months.

Interestingly, the study found that males in the cohort had a better chance of stroke recovery. And it also pays to be in good cognitive health beforehand. The results indicated that males and patients with normal cognition were more likely to be ‘increasers’ after having a stroke. This proved to be true regardless of stroke severity.

Can these findings be put to practical use?

Almost certainly yes. The results suggest that early intervention after the event could play a part in improved stroke recovery. In this case, targeting those showing a decrease in physical activity, and helping to reverse that trend, could prove beneficial.

Senior brain health coach Ryan Glatt, from the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, emphasised this point. Mr Glatt, who was not involved in the study, highlighted the benefits of early intervention. “Physical activity after an acquired brain injury (such as a stroke) seems to be important earlier in the process.”

Mr Glatt said the Swedish study would be well worth building on. “Future studies that implement different physical activity interventions, including interdisciplinary rehabilitation, would be interesting to see how outcomes are affected,” he said.

Of course, physical activity is just one aspect of stroke recovery. Those who have suffered a stroke are at an increased risk of suffering another one. Preventative measures besides increased exercise can be just as important, if not more.

These measures include quitting (or not starting) smoking, maintaining a moderate body weight, lowering or controlling cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, managing diabetes, eating a healthy and balanced diet, staying well hydrated, getting enough rest (seven to nine hours daily), managing or reducing stress, and regular contact and check-ups with your health professional.

Have you suffered a stroke? Did exercise play a role in your recovery? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: How to spot the signs of stroke and reduce your risk

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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