Suffering a stroke can often have deleterious results: inhibited quality of life and heightened injury risk due to decreased mobility, to name a couple. But don’t underestimate the ability of a client who has had a stroke.

A research report published in the October 2009 issue of The Cochrane Library determined that stroke patients who participated in a walking program were able to walk faster and longer than nonexercisers. The researchers obtained information from 24 studies that included 1,147 stroke patients. The goal was to determine what benefits could be derived from a poststroke exercise program. Methods of exercise in the various studies included walking or cycling, free weight and resistance band strength training, or some combination of cardiovascular and resistance training. After reviewing the studies, the researchers discovered a common theme: walking. “If you ask stroke patients about aspects of function that are important for them to regain, walking and ambulation are repeatedly highly rated,” stated study author David Saunders, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

In one particular study, stroke patients were required to walk three or more times per week for more than 20 minutes. At study completion, the exercisers achieved an average increase in walking speed of 5.6 yards per minute. A fewer number of studies involved strength training, and they did not offer definitive evidence for its inclusion in a stroke patient’s exercise program. “If you strength-train stroke patients, you can make them stronger, but there was no evidence of improvement in mobility or physical function,” added Saunders. Despite these findings, Saunders stated that it is still unclear whether a walking program has any effect on mortality or disability. “There is sufficient evidence to incorporate cardiorespiratory training, involving walking, within post-stroke rehabilitation in order to improve speed, tolerance and independence during walking. Further trials are needed to determine the optimal exercise prescription after stroke and identify any long-term benefits,” concluded the authors.

Do you work with stroke victims? What exercise methods have you found to help improve mobility among your clients? E-mail your story to [email protected]