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Aerobic Exercise Speeds Up Recovery For Stroke Patients

Aerobic exercise given as physical therapy speeds up the recovery of stroke patients, a recent study found.

This is great news for the 6.6 million people in the United States who have survived a stroke. It’s a new approach to physical therapy that may help stroke patients resume a physically active life.



Aerobic Exercise: Study Results

Researchers at the University of South Carolina started off by viewing stroke survivors as similar to heart attack survivors. And therefore, would physical activity rehabilitation for stroke patients be as successful as it has been for heart attack survivors.


Traditionally, rehabilitation for stroke survivors has focused more on physical and occupational therapy. Specifically, therapists focus on improving impairments in walking, strength, balance and coordination.

Limited time is spent working to achieve improvements in aerobic fitness.


A review of 19 studies, showed that stroke survivors could indeed benefit from aerobic exercise in the same way cardiac patients do. And, the most amazing finding was the benefits achieved regardless of the specific type of aerobic activity.


To measure that improvement, researchers looked at the results of what’s known as the “six-minute walk test.”  This is a standard test that measures fitness by comparing the distance subjects can walk in a given amount of time.

For stroke survivors, an aerobic exercise program increased their walking distance by 58 yards.


Furthermore, aerobic exercise improves endurance. Thirty minutes of aerobic conditioning, two to three times a week, for between eight to 18 weeks, significantly improves endurance. Most important, it speeds up the recovery process.


Build Endurance Slowly

One caveat: It’s important for stroke survivors to start their aerobic exercise slowly and build up gradually. Shorter bouts of more frequent activity is a good way to start and be successful.


If walking is too painful, there are other options.

For example, a recumbent biking (a low bike with a supportive back) is a great choice. Or, an arm bike, which uses a pedaling motion of the arms to boost heart rate.


For those with significant weakness on one side of the body, an arm bike or a seated step machine such as a NuStep, is a good alternative. This machine which single arm and leg motion — and can be done with just one side of the body actively moving.

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