Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide, according to recent reports from the World Health Organization (WHO). A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked or interrupted. As a result, brain cells begin to die just minutes after the blockage or interruption has occurred.
Stroke survivors can experience a wide range of disabilities, from minor behavioral changes to serious conditions like aphasia, a neurological disorder that impairs speech. Most stroke survivors also find it difficult to move about without crutches, walkers and other walking aids.
The findings of a recent review offer hope for stroke survivors. Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the review showed that aerobic programs similar in structure to current cardiac rehabilitation programs in the U.S. helped improve endurance and walking speed in stroke survivors.
Performing aerobic exercises can improve endurance
A team of researchers from the University of South Carolina sought to determine if aerobic programs similar in design to cardiac rehabilitation programs could benefit stroke survivors.
According to lead author Elizabeth Regan, available therapies for stroke patients focus more on regaining movement, not on increasing how far and how long the patient can move. This is an important distinction to make because, as Regan noted, it won’t matter if a stroke survivor can walk if their endurance level keeps them from walking in the first place.
It is also possible that stroke survivors struggle to continue rehabilitation activities on their own because of poor endurance. Therefore, it’s worth examining if therapies that focus on endurance can benefit stroke survivors better than existing therapies that emphasize motor learning.
To this end, the team examined 19 qualified studies with a total of 23 treatment groups. The team included studies that featured group-based aerobic exercise interventions for adult survivors of stroke. The interventions also had to include time-limited walk tests. All in all, the qualified studies included 485 participants between 54 to 71 years of age.
Each week, participants attended at least two or three aerobic exercise sessions similar in structure to cardiac rehabilitation or cardiac rehab. This program is designed to improve the cardiovascular health of heart attack and congestive heart failure survivors. As such, it tends to focus on endurance or aerobic exercises like walking.
The team noted that treadmill walking was the most common aerobic exercise performed across all 23 treatment groups. Other aerobic exercises featured in the studies include stationary cycling, mixed-mode aerobics and recumbent stepping.
Upon analysis of the participants’ recorded physical abilities before and after the intervention, the researchers found that mixed-mode aerobics and treadmill walking led to significant improvements in the participant’s overall endurance and walking speed.
Regan noted that the improvements were apparent regardless of how long it had been since the patient’s stroke. In addition, stroke survivors with mild movement impairments benefited the most from the intervention.
Based on their findings, the researchers thus concluded that aerobic exercises can improve overall endurance in stroke survivors.
Other health benefits of aerobic exercise
Aerobic exercise has significant health benefits outside of better endurance and faster walking speed. Here are some of them:
- Improves mental health – Walking, running and cycling can stimulate the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is also known as the feel-good neurotransmitter.
- Promotes weight management – Regular aerobic exercise can burn weight better than short bursts of intense exercise. It can also keep weight off in the long run.
- Regulates blood pressure – Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart. This helps it become more efficient at pumping blood, resulting in better blood pressure regulation.
- Minimizes the risk of chronic diseases – Aerobic exercise also reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. (Related: Get moving: Reduce your risk of heart disease with aerobic exercise.)
- Boosts metabolism – Aerobic workouts also lead to an enhanced metabolism that contributes to better weight management.
- Strengthens immune functions – Exercise reduces the risk of contracting viral and bacterial infections. Breathing fast also keeps the lungs free of pathogens.
- Reduces cholesterol – Regular aerobic exercise is a tested and proven method of managing cholesterol levels.
- Lowers the risk of breast cancer – Aerobic exercise reduces the amount of estrogen-sensitive cells that might trigger breast cancer.
- Prevents bone loss – Aerobic exercises also strengthen the bones, thus reducing the risk of fractures and degenerative bone disease in later life.
- Lowers resting heart rate – A low resting heart rate is a good sign that the heart is in good condition.
- Improves diabetes – Performing aerobic exercises can help lower blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Aerobic exercise has incredible benefits for stroke survivors and people with other chronic conditions. Commit to an aerobic workout for better overall health and wellness in the long run.
Read more articles about aerobic exercise and cardiovascular fitness at Naturopathy.news.