Stroke survivors urged to keep moving

Most stroke survivors are doing little or no physical activity despite evidence that being active can reduce the risk of having another stroke or heart attack, according to new research.


After suffering a stroke, many people spend around 80 per cent of their time sedentary despite evidence that even small and gradual doses of physical activity can help prevent subsequent strokes, the study found.


Neurological physiotherapist Natalie Fini’s report How Physically Active Are People Following Stroke? is published in the July edition of the academic journal Physical Therapy.


More than 78 per cent of stroke survivors’ time was spent being sedentary or lying down.


“After a stroke, there are limitations on how people can move. Many stroke survivors struggle to maintain their previous level of activity and a number of them weren’t very active to start with,” Ms Fini said.


“Following a stroke, people can be scared or anxious about exercise in case it triggers another stroke, but in fact the opposite can be true. I’m really keen to explore how we, as physiotherapists, can help support them to either stay or become more active following a stroke, as this will improve their health long-term.”


The review included 103 research papers involving more than 5000 participants with stroke aged 21 to 96 years.


Activity monitors had been used in about two thirds of the research papers. They showed that people who had had a stroke took on average 5535 steps per day in the period from two weeks to six months after a stroke, and 4078 steps in the chronic phase (six months onwards).


This was less than half the activity of healthy matched individuals who took an average of 8338 steps per day.


Ms Fini said the American Stroke and Heart Association recommends that people with stroke perform aerobic activity for 20 to 60 minutes on three to five days per week, as well as strength, neuromuscular and flexibility exercises two to three days per week, to reduce their risk of future stroke and cardiovascular disease.


Ms Fini said, “It is doubtful that stroke survivors meet the guidelines, which could increase their risk of further strokes.”


The next step will be to complete the analysis of a longitudinal study that tracked stroke survivors from 2013 to 2017 to monitor physical activity, cholesterol, blood pressure and mobility.


It is intended to develop interventions and activity targets for clinical physiotherapists working with stroke patients during all periods of recovery.


“Walking is a great form of physical activity, but people with stroke can also increase their physical activity simply by breaking up long periods of sitting, or increasing the amount of light jobs they do around the house – this ‘light’ physical activity also has health benefits.”


The research, by Ms Fini, was funded by the Heart Foundation and conducted at Alfred Health and La Trobe University.


Reference: “How Physically Active Are People Following Stroke? Systematic Review and Quantitative Synthesis”, Physical Therapy, Volume 97, Issue 7, 1 July 2017, Pages 707–717,


11 August 2017.