After surviving a stroke, the road to recovery is often long and challenging. While medical interventions play a crucial role, the significance of exercise post-stroke cannot be overstated. In this article, we will delve into the reasons why incorporating physical activity into the rehabilitation process is paramount for restoring both physical and mental well-being after a stroke.

Understanding the Impact of Stroke:

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted, leading to a range of debilitating consequences. Depending on the severity and location of the stroke, individuals may experience muscle weakness, paralysis, impaired coordination, and diminished overall mobility. Beyond the physical toll, strokes can also impact cognitive functions and emotional well-being.

The Role of Exercise in Stroke Recovery: Improving recovery, function and quality of life.

  1. Restoring Mobility, Strength & Function:
    Exercise is a key component in rebuilding strength, mobility, and function. Engaging in exercise including resistance training and aerobic training can help individuals regain control over affected muscles and improve overall function [1]. Rehabilitation exercises are often designed to address specific deficits, gradually reintroducing movement and function which improves activities of daily living and quality of life [2].
  1. Neuroplasticity and cognitive improvements:
    The brain’s ability to reorganize and form new neural connections, known as neuroplasticity, is a powerful asset in stroke recovery [3-5]. Contracting muscle (exercise) stimulates the release of chemicals which supports neuroplasticity [6], facilitating the rewiring of the brain to compensate for damaged areas. This process improves cognition and motor skills [7] and is essential for regaining lost skills and adapting to new ways of performing daily activities.
  1. Cardiovascular Health:
    Stroke survivors may face an increased risk of secondary cardiovascular events. Regular exercise helps manage risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes, promoting overall heart health. Cardiovascular exercise, under the guidance of healthcare professionals, can enhance endurance and reduce the risk of subsequent strokes or cardiovascular complications [8].
  2. Balance & Coordination:
    After suffering from a stroke, individuals may have impaired balance and coordination which increases the risk of falling. Exercise, such as resistance exercise, balance training and coordination drills, contribute to the improvement of motor control, stability, coordination, and balance [9-11]. Regular physical activity also enhances proprioception, the body’s ability to sense its position in space, aiding individuals in navigating their surroundings with greater confidence.
  1. Emotional Well-being:
    The mental and emotional toll of a stroke is often underestimated. Exercise has been shown to produce chemicals which have positive effects on mood and mental well-being. It can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, providing a holistic approach to recovery [12, 13].

Tailoring Exercise Programs to Individual Needs

Each stroke survivor is unique, and rehabilitation programs should be tailored to individual needs and capabilities. Working closely with exercise physiologist ensures that exercise regimens are safe, effective, and aligned with specific recovery goals.

Overcoming Barriers

While the importance of exercise post-stroke is clear, barriers such as fear, fatigue, and limited mobility may hinder participation. Adaptive strategies, a supportive environment, and the incorporation of enjoyable activities can help overcome these challenges, making exercise an achievable and sustainable part of the recovery journey.

Tips on exercises for stroke patients

Here are some tips to help you or someone you love get more physical activity after a stroke.

  1. Involve yourself in enjoyable physical activities – Involve physical activities that you enjoy. This may include going for a walk or riding a bike. Depending on how your stroke has affected your function, you might need to use adaptive equipment such as a recumbent or stationary exercise bike or receive assistance from an exercise physiologist or support person to get to an exercise facility or perform exercises safely at home.
  2. Set Goals – Set goals you would like to achieve. This may include being able to complete activities you used to complete before suffering from a stroke such as cleaning the house, going for a hike or run or playing with your children or grandchildren.
  3. Start slowly – Start Slow and progress accordingly! Even a few minutes every day is better than nothing. Don’t include too much, too quick as this can lead to you feeling overwhelmed and may also increase the risk of injury.
  4. Make exercise a habit – Incorporate exercise into your lifestyle. Set out an exercise schedule and prioritise your exercise sessions. For example, completing your exercise program first thing in the morning and incorporate short walks after you eat a meal.
  5. Seek professional support – Get professional support from an exercise physiologist. An exercise physiologist has completed several years of university and has the skills and knowledge to prescribe and deliver safe, effective and individualised exercise based on your capacity and goals. Accredited exercise physiologists, like those at Sydney Exercise Medicine, have university qualifications in prescribing exercise for people with medical conditions such as a stroke.

In the aftermath of a stroke, the journey toward recovery is a multifaceted process. Exercise emerges as a cornerstone in rebuilding physical and mental well-being. By embracing the rehabilitative power of targeted physical activities, stroke survivors can reclaim their health, restore functionality, and cultivate a renewed sense of hope and vitality. As we continue to explore the intricate relationship between exercise and stroke recovery, let us champion a holistic approach that empowers individuals to thrive beyond the challenges of the past.

Expert Author: Christopher Kondos (Accredited Exercise Physiologist and founder of Sydney Exercise Medicine).

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Speak to an accredited exercise physiologist today to learn how they can assist an individual living with an NDIS disability.

Written by Accredited Exercise Physiologist – Christopher Kondos

Christopher Kondos is an ESSA Accredited Exercise Physiologist with 6+ years of experience in the health and fitness industry. Christopher has completed a Sports & Exercise Science Degree and a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology.
– Master of Clinical Exercise Physiology at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst -2022 (Received an Executive Dean’s Award for these studies)
– Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science at Australian Catholic University, Strathfield – 2019
-Student Exercise Physiologist at Nepean Hospital (Cardiac Rehabilitation) 2021
– Approved SIRA Provider (No. 20963)
– ASCA Strength and Conditioning Level 1 accreditation – 2018

Christopher Kondos Sydney exercise Medicine



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