University of Edinburgh LogoThis is an interesting piece of news. Stroke patients who join a post-stroke walking program seem to walk faster, longer and more independently as compared to non-exercisers. Atleast this is what the experts from the University of Edinburgh claim.

Stroke is known to frequently cause weakness or paralysis, muscle stiffness, balance problems and fatigue. Apparently, all these conditions makes it hard for the patients to move easily. Moreover, many stroke patients seem to have poor fitness or other chronic health conditions before stroke, which contributes to movement difficulties. According to the National Stroke Association, approximately 4 million Americans are estimated to be living with the after-effects of stroke.

For the purpose of the study, experts looked at 24 studies which included nearly 1,147 stroke patients. The analysis was believed to have focused on how participation in fitness training programs after stroke influenced rates of death, dependence or disability. Apparently, fitness training incorporated cardiovascular exercise such as walking or cycling, strength training like free weights or resistance bands or a combination of cardiovascular and strength training.

“Cardiorespiratory training, which used walking as the mode of exercise, can improve walking ability,” says lead author of the study, David Saunders, Ph.D., a lecturer in exercise physiology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Earlier studies have suggested that cardiorespiratory training involving walking may perhaps be helpful to stroke patients. According to this latest study, the increased number of randomized controlled trials appears to have strengthened the fairly cautious conclusions reported in the year 2004. Systematic studies were noted to have drawn evidence-based conclusions about medical practices after taking into consideration both the content and quality of existing tests on the topic. Also, nearly 50 percent of the tests seem to take place in the United States.

Saunders further stated that, “If you ask stroke patients about aspects of function that are important for them to regain, walking and ambulation are repeatedly highly rated as being important to them.”

“The most consistent pattern within our data related to cardiorespiratory training benefiting walking, in terms of maximum walking speed, comfortable walking speed, walking tolerance and reliance on other people for ambulation,” continues Saunders.

The study participants were believed to have walked three or more days per week, generally for more than 20 minutes at a time. The findings revealed that in exercising patients, the maximum walking speed seemed to have increased by about 5.6 yards per minute. Furthermore, they could possibly cover an additional 42.5 yards in a six-minute session as compared to non-exercisers.

Saunders stated that whether these benefits continue after training is finished appears to remain unclear. It was observed that only four studies with nearly 158 participants evaluated strength-training programs. However, these strength-training programs were unable to allow definitive recommendations.

“If you strength-train stroke patients, you can make them stronger, but there was no evidence of improvement in mobility and physical function,” adds Saunders.

Additionally, the majority of existing studies in this analysis appear to be unable to examine whether exercise programs influenced stroke patients’ level of disability. It was noted that only one person died in the included studies. As a result, the study authors could not make conclusions about the effect of fitness training on death or disability rates.

“The conclusions are reasonable based on the published literature. The real challenge is that they are struggling with studies that are insufficient to answer the questions that they have posed,” states Joel Stein, M.D., professor and chief in the division of rehabilitation medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, and author of a book on recovering from stroke.

Stein further elucidated that, “The large, overarching point to be made is that exercise is good for you. There is a lot of evidence that exercise helps prevent heart disease, stroke and obesity, and that it reduces the risk of developing diabetes. We have robust evidence that exercise is beneficial, but it is a little harder to cite proof that physical fitness training is good for stroke survivors in particular.”

“For patients who are ambulatory, I advise walking as the simplest and most relevant exercise,” adds Stein.

Stein, who had no connection with the study claimed that it is indistinct whether performing exercise at the levels examined in the study may possibly be reasonable for many stroke survivors.

Studies included in the analysis are believed to suffer from a prejudice because they rely on stroke survivors who are interested and able to participate. These stroke survivors may in fact be more motivated and healthier in contrast to the average stroke patient, which could possibly twist the results.

The findings of the study have been published in The Cochrane Library.