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The importance of exercise after stroke

Health
Woman exercising

Evidence suggests that exercise after a stroke can help people regain cognitive function and reduce the risk of another stroke. But if the stroke caused physical impairments, you may think it’s impossible to incorporate exercise into your life.
That’s not the case at all, says Sarah Vanderbosch, an occupational therapist at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Hospital at Murrells Inlet, an affiliate of Encompass Health.
“Even if someone’s mobility has been profoundly impacted by a stroke, exercise is still important and very possible,” she says.
From simple exercises completed while seated to the use of exercise machines, Vanderbosch says stroke patients can find ways to be physically active.

Many options

For example, patients don’t have to be able to independently stand and move around to get exercise. Exercises can be complete while sitting in a chair, on the side of a bed or standing next to a table for balance, she says.
The use of resistance bands can help increase your heart rate even from a seated position. Wrap the band around the chair leg, bed frame or even a doorknob. Perform rapid resistance exercises such as chest presses or bicep curls in fairly quick succession. Start with 20 to 30 repetitions per exercise and increase exercise volume as endurance improves.
Simply punching the air is another easy cardio exercise that can be done while seated. Add hand weights for more resistance or incorporate a video gaming system (such as the Nintendo Wii) for variation and fun.

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In a gym or rehabilitation center, use a hand-cycle or hand-rowing machine to increase your heart rate without relying on your lower extremities. Or add straps to the foot pedals of a stationary bike. These will keep your feet on the pedals as you cycle.
Swimming or moving through a pool is a great low-impact exercise. Many pools have adaptive equipment that allows people with physical disabilities to safely get into and out of the water. Even if you don’t swim, the water offers resistance. Aqua aerobics classes are also a great way to keep your body healthy.
Of course, make sure to speak with a physician or other qualified care provider before beginning a new exercise routine.
“Even if a stroke has affected your mobility, there are ways to adapt to your impairments so you can stay active,” Vanderbosch says. “If you need help, reach out to your physician who can refer you to a therapist for care.”

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