Meta-Analysis Shows Aerobic Exercise After Stroke Correlates With Improved Endurance and Walking Speed

  • Exercise
  • Stroke

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that survivors of stroke who completed aerobic exercise programs achieved improvements in endurance and walking ability. Overall, participants significantly improved their endurance level and walking speed. On average, participants walked almost 50 yards farther during a 6-minute walking test. Participants with mild movement impairments benefited the most. 

Mixed aerobic activity correlated with the most improvement in the 6-minute walk test (6MWT), followed by walking. Cycling or recumbent stepping (stepping in a seated position) were less effective. “These benefits were realized regardless of how long it had been since their stroke,” said Elizabeth Regan, DPT, PhD candidate in exercise science at the University of South Carolina.

“Our analysis included stroke survivors across a wide range, from less than 6 months to greater than a year since their stroke, and the benefits were seen whether they started an aerobic exercise program 1 month or 1 year after having a stroke.” 

“Cardiac rehab programs may be a viable option for patients after a stroke who have health risks and endurance losses similar to traditional cardiac rehab participants,” said Stacy Fritz, PhD, PT, associate professor of exercise science, Physical Therapy Program, University of South Carolina. “Almost every hospital has a cardiac rehab program, so it’s an existing platform that could be used for stroke survivors. Funneling patients with stroke into these existing programs may be an easy, cost-effective solution with long-term benefits.”

This meta-analysis reviewed 19 studies comprising nearly 500 adults, age 54-71, who attended 2 to 3 aerobic exercise sessions per week for approximately 3 months. Walking was the most common type of activity, followed by stationary cycling and mixed-mode aerobic exercise. Physical abilities were tested before and after interventions. 

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