Exercise Significantly Improves Post-Stroke Outcomes, Study Finds


New research suggests that four hours of exercise per week can double a patient’s chance of recovering from a stroke in six months.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open and conducted by investigators from The University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden. Previously, the investigators had demonstrated an inverse association between physical activity and the severity of stroke symptoms. For this new study, they examined how physical activity impacts patient outcomes after a stroke.

To understand better the effect of regular exercise on post-stroke outcomes, researchers analyzed data from 1,500 stroke patients from 35 Swedish hospitals. The data were then grouped based on the patients’ post-stroke physical activity patterns.

The results indicated that patients who increased or maintained their physical activity, exercising four hours per week, were twice as likely to recover from their stroke after six months as those who were not physically active. The study also found that men and people with normal cognition were more likely to keep up their levels of physical activity and, as a result, had better recovery times.

According to Dongni Buvarp, MD, PhD, a researcher in clinical neuroscience at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, exercise directly affects the brain after a stroke.

"Physical activity reprograms both the brain and the body favorably after a stroke,” she said. “Exercise improves the body's recovery at the cellular level, boosts muscle strength and well-being, and reduces the risk of falls, depression, and cardiovascular disease. Regardless of how severe the stroke has been, those affected can derive benefits from exercising more.”

One major limitation of the study was that the patients’ activity levels before their strokes were unknown. Nevertheless, researchers said their findings highlight the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle post-stroke. 

"Being physically active is hugely important, especially after a stroke. That's a message that health professionals, stroke victims, and their loved ones should all know. Women and people with impaired cognition seem to become less active after stroke,” said Buvarp. “The study results indicate that these groups need more support to get going with physical activity.”