Just six months of exercise can improve memory, language, thinking
and judgment problems by almost 50 per cent, says a study presented
today at the Canadian Stroke Congress.
Toronto researchers found that the proportion of stroke patients
with at least mild cognitive impairment dropped from 66 per cent to 37
per cent during a research study on the impact of exercise on the brain.
"People who have cognitive deficits after stroke have a threefold
risk of mortality, and they're more likely to be institutionalized,"
says lead researcher Susan Marzolini of the Toronto Rehabilitation
Institute. "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."
Forty-one patients, of whom 70 per cent had mild to moderate walking
problems requiring a cane or walker, followed an adapted aerobic and
strength/resistance training program five days a week. Exercises
designed to imitate daily life included walking, lifting weights and
The research team found "significant improvements" in overall brain
function at the conclusion of the program, with the most improvement in
attention, concentration, planning and organizing. Muscular strength and
walking ability also increased.
The study did not use a control group of people who didn't exercise.
However, Ms. Marzolini says, "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."
Ms. Marzolini emphasizes the need to give people with stroke-related
impairments access to exercise programs. "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," says Ian Joiner,
director of stroke for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. "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
"These healthy lifestyle studies emphasize how important it is to
exercise and stay active after stroke," says Dr. Mark Bayley, Co-Chair
of the Canadian Stroke Congress and Medical Director of the Neurological
Rehabilitation Program at Toronto Rehab. "By doing so, we can increase
our chances of a better outcome after stroke."
The Canadian Stroke Congress is co-hosted by the Canadian Stroke
Network, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Stroke