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Exercise after stroke


Exercise is a good way to maintain your health through recovery, rehabilitation and the rest of your life. Exercise can keep you fit and healthy – physically and mentally – to reduce the chance of another stroke and to improve your quality of life. But stroke is a complex condition, which can impact your ability to exercise safely. An individualised exercise plan by a physiotherapist will set you up properly to meet your needs and abilities.

People living with stroke have different needs. Some want to continue with a more traditional rehab program under the supervision of trained physiotherapists, but may have problems with access (insurance coverage, transportation). Other’s prefer to participate in programs in their community or at home. The good news is that more exercise programs are becoming available to meet the needs of people recovering from a stroke:

  • Community fitness providers are being trained to deliver exercise programs that are suitable for people recovering from a stroke.
  • Programs are being developed and evaluated to enable stroke survivors to exercise independently, at home or in community groups.

Talk to your healthcare providers - before you leave the hospital - about programs in your community.

Keys to success with exercise after stroke

What to do:

  1. Talk to your stroke team about whether or not you are ready to exercise before starting any program.

    Why?  Only your stroke team knows if it is safe for you to participate in an exercise program.
  2. Work with a stroke physiotherapist and other team members to choose the right program for you.

    Why?  Assessing your personal goals, medical condition and ability means that you will be matched to a program that is safe and effective for you.
  3. Be re-assessed periodically by your fitness provider.

    Why?  Regular assessments will ensure that you are doing your exercises properly – for both safety and effectiveness. Adjust the level of challenge to help you progress toward your goals.
  4. Exercise is hard work but keep at it and progress will come.

    Why?  Many tasks are repetitive – even boring at times – and take a lot of effort, but there is lots of research to show that exercise benefits people who have had a stroke.
  5. Exercise with others.

    Why?  Research shows that exercising with others keeps it more interesting and helps your motivation.
  6. Stay motivated. What works best to keep you motivated? Do you have a favourite type of exercise? Do you like to listen to music while you exercise? Try setting weekly goals and reward yourself when you reach them!

    Why?  Knowing what motivates you to exercise will help you keep at it for the long-term.
  7. STOP the exercise if things start to feel wrong in your body or you have difficulty breathing. If you don’t feel better after a few minutes, stop and check with your doctor or stroke team member as soon as possible.

    Why?  You should not feel unwell or be working too hard.
  8. Talk to your physiotherapist about hip protectors. If you do fall, check with your doctor or stroke team member.

    Why?  Stroke can cause poor balance and you may have osteoporosis – both are risks for hip fracture.
  9. If your exercises are painful, STOP! Work with a physiotherapist or a trained fitness provider to modify the exercise so that you are in a pain-free range.

    Why?  Only do exercises that are within your abilities. The benefits of exercise outweigh the risk of injury as long as they are done safely.
The 4 different types of exercise:

Activity type

  1. Endurance (aerobic)

    Why?  Improves your heart and lung fitness, reduces fatigue and increases your energy to be active throughout your day.
  2. Strength

    Why?  Increases your muscle strength so it is easier to do everyday things like climb stairs, get up from a chair and carry groceries.
  3. Balance

    Why?  Makes it easier to move about in your home and in the community, and reduces your risk of falls.
  4. Stretching

    Why?  Keeps your muscles relaxed and your joints mobile so that you can get dressed and reach for objects more easily.
Choosing a Community Exercise Program

Your community may have fitness programs suitable for you. More and more fitness providers are being trained to work with stroke survivors.

Talk with your healthcare team about whether any of the programs are right for you.

Here are some evidence-based exercise programs that might be offered in your community.

Exercising at home

You may be able to get your exercise at home under the supervision of a trained therapist. Talk to your health care team about whether any of these programs are right for you.

Aerobic exercise and your health

Physical activity helps to preserve muscle strength, helps with balance and walking, and improves energy levels. - things that help your ability to carry out many daily activities. Aerobic activity should be incorporated into an overall program of physical activity after stroke. Learn more.

Community exercise leaders

If you lead a community exercise program for people with stroke, these guidelines and tool available to help.