people swimming in a poolStroke is a leading cause of disability and the fourth most prevalent cause of death in the United States today. Experts say that exercise should be a part of treatment for stroke survivors. Incorporating exercise into a post-stroke treatment plan can help patients overcome many of the barriers to recovery like depression and fatigue. Scientists emphasize that the key to effective, exercise-based treatment is tailoring the program to an individual’s needs.

The report’s authors explain that exercise is a structured type of physical activity with planned, repetitive tasks that support physical fitness. Making exercise part of a patient’s prescription for stroke recovery is important. The authors recommend that clinicians should:

  • Create exercise plans with individuals in mind. Clinicians must consider the patient’s recovery, environment, physical limitations, and activity preferences.

  • Limit bed rest after a stroke. Patients should start sitting and standing immediately.

  • Suggest an exercise program that helps the patient regain or exceed his or her former activity level.

  • Incorporate strength training, balance, flexibility, and aerobic exercise into the prescription.

  • Schedule 20 to 60 minutes of activity. If a patient cannot exercise that much at one time, the exercise can be in 10 to 15 minute blocks.

Exercise prescriptions can reduce the risk of disability and of recurrent stroke in survivors. Exercise also ameliorates many conditions associated with stroke recovery like depression, decreased cognitive functioning, and impaired memory.

It can be difficult for stroke survivors to exercise. They may lack motivation or social support. They may not be able to afford an appropriate exercise program, but even simple exercises support recovery. Stroke patients can walk around their neighborhood or even do household chores to get themselves moving.

According to lead author Sandra Billinger, PT, PhD, “They key to exercise is that it only works if done consistently. Anything is better than just sitting on the couch.”

This research is published in the journal Stroke.

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