Aerobic exercise in subacute stroke improves cardiovascular health and physical performance

J Neurol Phys Ther. 2012 Dec;36(4):159-65. doi: 10.1097/NPT.0b013e318274d082.


Background and purpose: Cardiovascular health is often impaired after stroke. Reduced exercise capacity ((Equation is included in full-text article.)VO(2peak)) and changes in the vascular system in the stroke-affected limb may impact performance of physical activities such as walking. There is little information regarding the role of prescribed moderate- to high-intensity exercise in subacute stroke. The purpose of this study was to examine whether an 8-week aerobic exercise intervention would improve cardiovascular health and physical performance in participants with subacute stroke.

Methods: Ten subjects were enrolled in the study and 9 of them completed the intervention. Participants were aged 61.2 ± 4.7 years old, were 66.7 ± 41.5 days poststroke, and had minor motor performance deficits (Fugl-Meyer score, 100.3 ± 29.3). Outcome measures were taken at baseline, postintervention, and at 1-month follow-up. Brachial artery vasomotor reactivity (flow-mediated dilation [FMD]) of both arms was used to assess vascular health, and a peak exercise test was used to assess exercise capacity. The 6-minute walk test (6MWT) was used to assess physical performance. Participants exercised on a recumbent stepper 3 times per week for 8 weeks at a prescribed heart rate intensity.

Results: At baseline, we identified between-limb differences in brachial artery FMD and low (Equation is included in full-text article.)VO(2peak) values. After the intervention, significant improvements were observed in the FMD in both arms, resting systolic blood pressure, and the 6MWT. Although we also observed improvements in the resting diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, and (Equation is included in full-text article.)VO(2peak) values, these changes were not significantly different.

Discussion and conclusion: Aerobic exercise in participants with subacute stroke was beneficial for improving cardiovascular health, reducing cardiac risk, and improving physical performance (6MWT).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Brachial Artery / physiopathology
  • Exercise Test
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Stroke / physiopathology
  • Stroke Rehabilitation*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Walking / physiology