Billinger authors AHA statement about importance of exercise for people after stroke

Regular exercise should be a key component of the post-stroke prescription, according to a scientific statement released by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA).

The statement in the May 20 edition of the American Heart Association's journal Stroke says exercise is a valuable yet underused care component after a person suffers a stroke. The statement suggests survivors should exercise from 20 to 60 minutes at least three days a week to prevent physical deconditioning and should include a combination of aerobic and strenthening exercises.

"There is strong evidence that physical activity and exercise after stroke can improve cardiovascular fitness, walking ability and upper arm strength," says Sandra Billinger, PT, Ph.D., the paper's lead author and director of the University of Kansas Medical Center's REACH Laboratory. "Emerging research suggests exercise may improve depressive symptoms, cognitive function, memory and quality of life after stroke, yet, too few health care professionals prescribe exercise as a form of therapy for stroke."

The American Heart Association reports that stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of long-term disability and estimates that 11 million people will be living with stroke by 2030. Following a stroke, survivors must overcome several barriers to exercise which can include motivation, stroke severity, fatigue, depression, affordability and social support.

"There is a big gap in America between when stroke patients are discharged from rehabilitation and the transition to community exercise programs when they go home," Billinger says. "Many are left on their own. We don't have a system in place to help stroke patients feel comfortable with exercise."

The AHA recommends the following components for post-stroke recovery:Customizing recovery exercise programs to the tolerance of the patient, stage of recovery, environment, social support, activity limitations and physical activity preferences

  • Customizing recovery exercise programs to the tolerance of the patient, stage of recovery, environment, social support, activity limitations and physical activity preferences
  • Minimizing bed rest in the days immediately after the stroke and having survivors sit or stand intermittently
  • Starting an exercise program as soon as patients are medically stable in order to regain or exceed levels fitness levels from before the stroke
  • Rehabilitation programs should incorporate strength training, aerobic exercise, flexibility and balance

Billinger says consistency is the key, adding that even everyday activities such as walking around the neighborhood and doing household chores can help build up strength and endurance.

Last modified: May 28, 2014
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