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The Importance of Exercise After a Stroke - October-01-13
Added by: Madeline Vann MPH

After a stroke, you’re probably not anxious to put on your running shoes and go jogging. You’re facing other concerns — but you should know that exercise is very important for stroke recovery and for preventing another stroke.

Only slightly more than half (57 percent) of stroke survivors are getting regular exercise, according to a survey of 11,862 men and women who had survived at least one stroke.
Stroke survivors need their doctor’s advice — or the guidance of another health professional — to get moving. If your doctor has not talked to you about the importance of exercise in preventing stroke, make a point of bringing it up.
Evidence That Exercise Helps After a Stroke
“Sitting around after a stroke is not helpful. It’s better to get exercise,” says Argye Beth Hillis, MD, executive vice chair of the department of neurology and co-director of the cerebrovascular division at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
“Any kind of aerobic exercise is helpful — things like swimming, jogging, anything that gets the heart rate up and helps you to lose weight, says Dr. Hillis.
In fact, such exercise may mean less damage from future strokes. A recent Danish study of 265 adults who had survived a stroke found that those who exercised the most, before and after the stroke, experienced less severe strokes and recovered better.
Why Exercise Improves Stroke Recovery
Being physically active will help with your stroke recovery, and help prevent a second one, because it:
Controls cholesterol levels. Keeping your cholesterol level low is very important if you want to prevent another stroke. Exercise increases “good” cholesterol.Fights high blood pressure. By keeping your blood vessels working well, you can fight high blood pressure. Many stroke survivors need to lose weight to reduce their risk of another stroke. Even if you’re already at a healthy weight, exercise will help with weight management.Fights depression. Depression is common after a stroke and can make it hard for you to find the motivation to do anything, let alone get moving. But did you know that being physically active fights stress and depression, which in turn reduces your additional heart disease and stroke risk?
Easing Into Exercise
There are two possible scenarios for stroke survivors. The first is that your stroke left you with no physical disability. In this case, when your doctor says you can begin exercising again, you’re ready to develop a post-stroke recovery routine. Go slow and check in with your doctor to make sure you’re not overdoing it.
Another possibility is that your stroke affected your ability to move. If that is the case, you will go throughrehabilitation before you can develop a traditional exercise plan. Physical and occupational therapists will help you with your rehab, which also counts as exercise. The best course of rehabilitation is:
Training for basic functions, focusing on muscle control, strength, coordination, and range of motionBuilding endurance
Although you might think strength is one of the greatest concerns you have in stroke recovery, a review of 151 studies showed that focusing only on developing strength does improve function, but not to the degree that a comprehensive skills-building program can.
Your Post-Stroke Exercise Goals
When you’re ready, you should shoot for:
At least 30 minutes of exercise three to four times a week — more is betterBeing active as often as possible — for example, parking a little further from your destination to build in some walking timeBucking gravity: Try chair aerobics or water sportsUsing your cane or walker as part of your routine. A physical therapist can show you how to build an assistive device into a healthy exercise program.

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