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Exercise Improves Effects of Stroke: Study

The most significant gains involved attention, concentration, planning and organizing

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 3, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- People who have suffered a stroke can improve their memory, thinking, language and judgment problems by nearly 50 percent through exercise, according to a new Canadian study.

Researchers in Toronto said these positive effects can be recognized after just six months of physical activity, and they suggested that exercise should be a routine part of treatment following stroke.

"People who have cognitive deficits after stroke have a threefold risk of mortality, and they're more likely to be institutionalized," the study's lead researcher, Susan Marzolini, of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, said in a news release from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. "If we can improve cognition through exercise, which also has many physical benefits, then this should become a standard of care for people following stroke."

The researchers had 41 stroke patients perform an aerobic and strength/resistance training program five days a week. Of these participants, 70 percent had mild to moderate walking problems and needed a cane or walker to get around. The exercises the patients were given imitated daily life, such as walking, lifting weights and doing squats.

The study revealed the proportion of stroke patients with at least mild cognitive impairment declined from 66 percent to 37 percent during the course of the six-month study. The researchers noted "significant improvements" in the patients' overall brain function. They added that the most notable improvements involved attention, concentration, planning and organizing. The participants also gained muscle strength and were able to walk better.

"These results provide compelling evidence that by improving cardiovascular fitness through aerobic exercise and increasing muscle mass with resistance training, people with stroke can improve brain health," said Marzolini. "Modified exercise programs are desperately needed. They can be adapted for people following stroke, and we think they can provide huge health benefits."

"Healthy living is important for reducing your risk for stroke, recovering from stroke and preventing another," Ian Joiner, director of stroke for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said in the news release. "All of us should manage our risk factors for stroke and, when needed, have access to information and counseling about strategies to modify our lifestyle choices."

The study was presented Monday at the Canadian Stroke Congress. Data and conclusions presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on the health benefits of exercise.

SOURCE: Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, news release, Oct. 1, 2012
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