Regular exercise decreases severity of stroke

New research is showing that being physically active improves outcomes for stroke victims.  

Research has already shown that exercise can help our hearts build new muscle cells, ward off damage to our immune systems, improve outcomes after surgery and decrease the symptoms in people with dementia.

Now, new research has looked at how low-intensity exercise can improve a person’s recovery from a stroke.

Taken together, they represent growing evidence that being active throughout your life will not only improve your health and longevity generally but may also help your ability to recover from traumatic events.

The research

One study out of Sweden (and published in Neurology) found that people who engage in light to moderate exercise may experience less-severe strokes compared to those who are physically inactive.

This analysis involved looking at stroke registries. They then identifying 925 people and asked them about their experience pre- and post-stroke, specifically about how much they exercised before the stroke.

“Stroke is a major cause of serious disability, so finding ways to prevent stroke or reduce the disability caused by stroke are important,” said Katharina S. Sunnerhagen, study author. “While exercise benefits health in many ways, our research suggests that even simply getting in a small amount of physical activity each week may have a big impact later by possibly reducing the severity of a stroke.”


In addition, an editorial in the same issue of Neurology from the Boston University School of Medicine’s Dr. Nicole Spartano drew on further research to argue that individuals who are physically active before having a stroke have better outcomes afterwards.

In particular, Dr. Spartano drew on a recent study from Malin Reinholdsson et al that found that people who reported being active (defined as undertaking two hours of moderate exercise or four hours of light activity per week) had milder symptoms if they had a stroke.

Light exercise would include low-intensity walking. Moderate exercise might be slightly more intense exercise such as swimming, brisk walking or running.

“Further research will need to investigate the specific doses of physical activity (frequency, duration, and intensity) and contexts that can provide the most benefit for cerebrovascular health,” Dr. Spartano wrote.

Research such as this highlights just how important physical exercise is for older people and those at risk of stroke throughout their lives.

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