tructured exercise training can significantly improve
brain function in stroke survivors, according
to research presented at the American Stroke
Association’s International Stroke Conference 2017.
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the
United States, and the leading cause of long-term disability.
Studies estimate that up to 85 percent of people who suffer
a stroke will have cognitive impairments, including deficits in
executive function, attention and working memory. Because
there are no drugs to improve cognitive function, physical
activity — such as physical therapy, aerobic and strength
training — has become a low-cost intervention to treat
cognitive deficits in stroke survivors.
In a meta-analysis of 13 intervention trials that included
735 participants, researchers analyzed the effects of various
types of physical activity on cognitive function among stroke
survivors. They found that structured physical activity training
significantly improved cognitive deficits regardless of the
length of the rehabilitation program (i.e., training longer than
three months as well as from one to three months.)
The researchers also found that cognitive abilities can
be enhanced even when physical
activity is introduced in the chronic
stroke phase (beyond three months
after a stroke).
“Physical activity is extremely
helpful for stroke survivors for
a number of reasons, and our
findings suggest that this may also
be a good strategy to promote
cognitive recovery after stroke,” said
lead author Lauren E. Oberlin, a
graduate student at the University
of Pittsburgh. “We found that a
program as short as 12 weeks is
effective at improving cognition,
and even patients with chronic
stroke can experience improvement
in their cognition with an exercise
The researchers analyzed general cognitive improvement,
as well as improvement specific to areas of higher order
cognition: executive function, attention and working memory.
Exercise led to selective improvements on measures of
attention and processing speed.
The researchers also examined whether cognitive
improvements depended on the type of physical activity
patients engaged in. Previous studies on healthy aging and
dementia populations have found that aerobic exercise by
itself is enough to improve cognition, but the effects are
increased when combined with an activity such as strength
training. Consistent with this work, the authors found that
combined strength and aerobic training programs yielded the
largest cognitive gains.
“Integrating aerobic training into rehabilitation is very
important, and for patients with mobility limitations, exercise
can be modified so they can still experience increases
in their fitness levels,” Oberlin said. “This has substantial
effects on quality of life and functional improvement, and I
think it’s really important to integrate this into rehabilitative
care and primary practice.”
Researcher Lauren Oberlin on exercise after stroke.
Rehabbing Body and Mind
Exercise can significantly improve brain function after stroke
By American Heart Association News