For people who have suffered a stroke, walking can be improved by treadmill exercise, researchers report. The exercise appears to help the brain re-learn walking.
"This is great news for stroke survivors because results clearly demonstrate that long-term stroke damage is not immutable and that with exercise it's never too late for the brain and body to recover," Dr. Daniel F. Hanley, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said in a statement.
In the study, the researchers sought to determine if treadmill exercise, three times a week for up to 40 minutes, could improve gait by inducing changes in brain activity in stroke patients who had been left immobilized on one side of their body.
Thirty-seven participants were allocated to treadmill exercises and 34 had stretching sessions of comparable duration. MRI was used to evaluate brain activation in a subset of patients.
Treadmill exercise increases brain activity
As reported in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke, treadmill exercise was associated with significant improvements in both treadmill-walking speed and cardiovascular fitness.
Stretching, by contrast, had little effect on walking speed and slightly worsened cardiovascular fitness.
When the paralyzed leg was moved, treadmill exercise but not stretching increased brain activity.
"Many stroke survivors believe there's nothing to be gained from further rehabilitation, but our results suggest that health and functional benefits from walking on a treadmill can occur even decades out from stroke," co-author Dr. Richard F. Macko, from the University of Maryland in Baltimore, noted in a statement. (Reuters Health)
SOURCE: Stroke, August 2008.
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