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KU researchers study whether high-intensity exercise could help stroke patients

February 18, 2019

By Leilana McKindra

Stroke Scan

Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center know exercise after a stroke is beneficial. What they'd like to figure out is how much and how intense that exercise should be for maximum benefit. To do that, researchers are leading the way with a national study to determine what "dose" of exercise works best.

During a 12-week intervention, participants will work with a physical therapist three times a week, receiving mobility and aerobic fitness testing as well as up to 36 walking workouts, all at no cost to participants. Among the options examined will be high-intensity exercise.

"Exercise is very good for people after a stroke. It helps their walking ability and their ability to prevent another stroke. That's not really a question anymore. It's how much intensity and for how long," said Sandra Billinger, Ph.D., director of the REACH Laboratory at KU Medical Center. "We're looking for a dose response both from intensity and duration."

Billinger, an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science with a joint appointment in the Department of Neurology, is the study's principal investigator at KU Medical Center. Billinger's team is seeking volunteers now for this five-year National Institutes of Health-funded study. Researchers will compare the two exercise intensities and different durations to see which one most improves stroke survivors' walking abilities.

To meet minimum eligibility requirements, volunteers must be between 40 and 80 years old, be six months to five years post-stroke and have some walking deficit. Use of assistive devices such as canes and walkers is acceptable, but prospective participants must be able to walk short distances.

"Anyone who thinks they may qualify is encouraged to contact us to see if they meet the criteria," Billinger said. "Recovery trials are not as prevalent as some of the acute or prevention trials. This is one reason we're excited to bring this to the Kansas City area. We're very fortunate to have this grant and the infrastructure of our partners with The University of Kansas Health System to support this trial."

Stroke survivors frequently experience problems with speech, swallowing and hemiplegia, or weakness in half the body, which affects their ability to walk and complete daily activities.

"While the most recovery gains tend to occur in the months immediately after a stroke, an increasing body of research shows rehabilitation at any stage post-stroke can improve function," said Sarah Eickmeyer, M.D., assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the KU School of Medicine and medical director of the acute in-patient rehabilitation unit at The University of Kansas Health System.

After weeks of in-patient rehabilitation, including physical, occupational and speech therapy, people recovering from strokes often continue their recovery with outpatient therapies.

This is where the current stroke recovery clinical trial can play a role, and it's an opportunity Eickmeyer encourages stroke survivors to strongly consider as they can become involved in cutting-edge research in stroke recovery and rehabilitation.

"Part of recovering from stroke is giving yourself every opportunity to participate in activities that might benefit you and hopefully benefit others like you," she said. "What most people value after having a stroke is their independence and ability to not burden others, including their families. Exercise and participating in a study like this is a great way to improve that chance."

The University of Cincinnati and the University of Delaware are the other sites offering this trial

For more information or to inquire about eligibility for the study, contact Jaimie Ward at 913-945-6630 or email

Last modified: Feb 19, 2019