Exercise Physiology Following a Stroke

Exercise Physiology Following a Stroke

Can Exercise Physiology Following a Stroke be helpful towards my recovery? First we ask, what is a stroke? A stroke occurs when the brain is damaged as a result of insufficient blood supply following a blockage in an artery or following a rupture of an artery leading to a bleed in the brain. Even a small stroke can lead to significant deficits that can be extremely debilitating for the patient, including: muscle weakness or paralysis, loss of sensory function, loss of balance and coordination, loss of ability to speak or understand language, impaired cognitive ability and impaired memory. These effects last longer than 24 hours in a stroke whereas a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA or ‘mini stroke’) is when these effects resolve within 24 hours. Having a TIA can increase the risk of the individual suffering a stroke in the future.

How can physical activity and exercise be beneficial?

There are a number of factors that increase the risk of stroke, including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, heart disease and physical inactivity 1. In addition to physical inactivity being a risk factor for stroke, being physically active has been shown to have a protective effect on the risk of having a stroke. Research suggests that being physically active reduces the risk of having a stroke by between 20-30% 1,2. This is likely due to the positive impact that physical activity has on improving various other risk factors. High blood pressure is considered the strongest modifiable risk factor for stroke and physical activity has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure. Additionally, being physically active has been shown to improve blood glucose regulation which can reduce the risk of diabetes as well as assist in the management of established diabetes. Physical activity is also known to lower cholesterol levels in the blood and to assist in weight loss, both of which can contribute to reductions in the risk of stroke.

In addition to helping to prevent stroke, exercise and physical activity is critical in the rehabilitation phase following a stroke.

Physical activity following stroke is important to improve physical function and reduce disability that may limit activities of daily living as well as in improving walking during recovery 3. Furthermore reductions in fitness are common following a stroke, and engaging in regular physical activity can significantly improve physical fitness which can improve recovery and daily function. Additionally, being physically active after a stroke may reduce the risk of further strokes by addressing the risk factors outlined above.

Working with our Exercise Physiology team can help support your exercise regimen and further develop your rehabilitation following an injury.

How much exercise should I be aiming for?

Aiming towards the current physical activity guidelines of 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity is a great starting point for lowering the risk of stroke. Exercising after stroke should be done with consultation with your Doctor, as well as with the guidance of a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist who can assist with developing an appropriate and optimal exercise program.

1. Howard, V. & McDonnell M. (2015). Physical activity in primary stroke prevention. Just do it! Stroke;46:1735-1739
2. Gallanagh, S Quinn, T. J., Alexander, J., & Walters, M. R. (2011). Physical activity in the prevention and treatment of stroke. ISRN neurology, 2011, 953818.