Stroke

10 April 2017

Fitness, not body fat key to post-stroke recovery

People who exercised regularly before their stroke are 18% more likely to be able to perform basic tasks.

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Suffering from a stroke can result in potentially devastating consequences, but survivors can live a normal and happy life despite their disabilities.

While it is important to recover after a stroke, exercising and being fit before a stroke could benefit patients greatly even though the amount of body fat a person had did not seem to be tied to post-stroke disability.

People who were active and exercised regularly before their stroke were less likely to face disability after the attack, researchers say.

Fitness is key

"Being physically inactive before stroke predicts a higher risk of being dependent both before and after stroke," said study author Pamela Rist, of Harvard University. Her team's findings were published online in the journal Neurology.

The new study involved more than 18 000 people with no history of stroke who were followed for an average of 12 years. During that time, nearly 1 400 of the participants suffered a stroke but survived.

Three years after their stroke, those who had exercised regularly before their stroke were 18% more likely to be able to perform basic tasks – such as bathing on their own, the researchers found.

The fitter individuals were also 16% more likely to be able to perform more complex tasks, such as managing money on their own, compared to those who did not exercise before their stroke, the findings showed.

Health benefits of exercise

Health24 previously reported that people who were physically active before a stroke responded better to clot-busting drugs, had less brain damage and were more likely to recover their motor skills than those who did no physical exercise.

"We also found that a person's body mass index was not a factor in predicting their level of disability after stroke," Rist said in a journal news release. Body mass index is an estimate of body fat based on weight and height.

Two experts in stroke care who reviewed the findings said the study highlights the importance of exercise.

The research "provides additional evidence that regular exercise has health benefits which last into a person's future", regardless of stroke, said Dr Andrew Rogove. He directs stroke care at Northwell Health's Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, New York.

Basic exercises to do after a stroke

  • Hamstring stretch (stretch out your hamstrings by reaching for your toes)
  • Seated kicks (lift on leg up until parallel to the floor and lower it back down; alternate legs)
  • Hand exercises (stack coins, play board games, build a puzzle)
  • Eye exercises (search for a letter in a word, search for a word in a sentence)
  • Neck stretches (move neck side to side and front to back)
  • Sit-stands (practice sitting down and standing up for balance)

Dr Ajay Misra is chair of neurosciences at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, New York. He said the study "provides insight into the fact that doctors should emphasise to their patients not only weight-reduction strategies for stroke and possibly heart attack prevention, but also the importance of leading a very active lifestyle to improve their chances of survival and recovery in case a stroke occurs."

Read more:

Stroke victims must get help within 3 hours to avoid disability

Stroke is a lead killer in South Africa

Can a child have a stroke?