Exercise and Stroke

Updated: May 12, 2021

In 2018, an estimated 387,000 people—214,000 males and 173,000 females—had had a stroke at some time in their lives, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (ABS 2019).

Stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain either suddenly becomes blocked (ischaemic stroke) or ruptures and begins to bleed (haemorrhagic stroke). A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly interrupted. This occurs in around 85% of cases of stroke. The second cause is through a break in the wall of a blood vessel, leading to a bleed in the brain (haemorrhagic stroke). This disruption in blood flow may lead to temporary or permanent damage to the brain.

Symptoms can appear alone or in combination and last for hours, days, months or even years. If symptoms resolve within 24 hours, this is usually called a transient ischemic attach (TIA). A TIA should not be ignored. Prompt investigation of the cause of a TIA may prevent a stroke.

Does Exercise Help Stroke?

Exercise helps prevent stroke. Once a person is affected by stroke, regular exercise and physical activity can also help reduce the risk of further stroke and improve post-stroke recovery, as well as help manage symptoms of stroke.

Benefits include: -

  • Improved walking ability, ability to complete activities of daily living, return to leisure activities.

  • Enhanced mobility, decreased falls, improved confidence

  • Improved strength, endurance and fitness

  • Improved balance, coordination and flexibility

  • Improved mood, alertness and thinking ability

  • Lowered blood pressure and cholesterol

What Exercise Is Best For Stroke?

Exercise is a normal human function that can be undertaken with a high level of safety by most people, including stroke survivors. However, exercise is not without risks, and the recommendation that stroke survivors participate in an exercise program is based on the premise that the benefits outweigh these risks. Therefore, the foremost priority in formulating the exercise prescription is to minimise the potential adverse effects of exercise via appropriate screening, program design, monitoring, and patient education.

The type of exercise or physical activity that works best for an individual with stroke will depend on the extent of their symptoms, the medical conditions that may have been present pre-stroke or be new since the stroke, such as heart problems and diabetes, their exercise preferences and their ability to get out and about. Avoiding prolonged sedentary (sitting/lying) behaviour is likely to be important also.

Fatigue is an often reported barrier to exercise and there is evidence that exercise can reduce the incidence of fatigue. Therefore, survivors of stroke, including those with fatigue should engage in regular physical activity.

Cardiovascular Exercise and Stroke

Cardiovascular exercise can be performed in a variety of settings including home, in clinic and also community groups.

We generally recommend:

  • Stationary cycle, leg or arm ergo, graded walking programs and even seated exercise programs can improve fitness

  • Circuit classes (group work) and functional exercise can also improve endurance, and may include walking on a treadmill

  • Walking programs - one of the easiest and safest types of exercise

  • For people with poor balance after stroke, treadmill walking with a body-weight support device can help some people improve their walking endurance and speed

  • Increasing activities of daily living, social physical activity can be beneficial and may help reduce prolonged sitting which is particularly problematic in people with stroke

Strength Exercise and Stroke

Resistance training of upper and lower limbs and trunk can be achieved using free weights, weight-bearing or partial weight-bearing activities, machine weights, elastic bands, spring coils or pulleys.

We recommend:

  • When safe to do so, progressive resistance with higher weight and low repetitions can be beneficial

  • 2-3 days a week appears to be the best frequency

  • Include functional and specific activity to improve any impairments

Balance Exercise and Stroke

Balance and functional training is so important for stroke patients. The focus needs to be on:

  • Increasing speed of walking,

  • Reducing falls risks, moving around and over obstacles

  • Adding stairs and slopes can improve balance in people with stroke

  • Tai Chi can improve balance and coordination and may help reduce falls

Before starting exercise after stroke

Remember the benefits of exercise are cumulative, that is every little bit counts.

Before commencing a cardiovascular program make sure you follow the following steps:

  • Book a medical review with your doctor is recommended to discuss clearance and referrals

  • Contact your local exercise physiologists for a review / assessment and guidance (at Prescribe Exercise Australia we specialise in the use of exercise as medicine).


Interested In Making A Booking?

Prescribe Exercise are your local Exercise Physiology specialists. We provide exercise rehabilitation from our purpose built Exercise Physiology Clinic. Our clinic has been designed solely for the improvement of your health, wellbeing and injury rehabilitation. We will assist you to achieve excellence through education and empowerment while providing you with the highest quality care and exercise best practice available. We genuinely care for our clients and want to make a difference in your life so you can get better and regain control of your health once again.


Book Now

Tel. (02) 4259 0384 126 Church St, Wollongong, NSW, 2500

References and further information

Exercise is Medicine Australia

National Stroke Foundation

Exercise Right

Post Created By Shane - Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

Prescribe Exercise are your local exercise physiology specialists. We provide exercise rehabilitation to assist manage and prevent injury and chronic disease in the Wollongong and Illawarra area.

Our programs will assist to achieve personal excellence, we do this by taking the time to educate and empower you with the highest quality care and exercise best practice available. We genuinely care for our clients and want to make a difference in your life, we will help you to get better and stay better so that you can regain control of your health once again.

Want to book in for Exercise Physiology Wollongong, head on over to our online bookings CLICK HERE

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