A Single Bout of High-Intensity Interval Training Improves Motor Skill Retention in Individuals With Stroke

Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2017 Aug;31(8):726-735. doi: 10.1177/1545968317718269. Epub 2017 Jul 8.


Background: One bout of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise performed immediately after practicing a motor skill promotes changes in the neuroplasticity of the motor cortex and facilitates motor learning in nondisabled individuals.

Objective: To determine if a bout of exercise performed at high intensity is sufficient to induce neuroplastic changes and improve motor skill retention in patients with chronic stroke.

Methods: Twenty-two patients with different levels of motor impairment were recruited. On the first session, the effects of a maximal graded exercise test on corticospinal and intracortical excitability were assessed from the affected and unaffected primary motor cortex representational area of a hand muscle with transcranial magnetic stimulation. On the second session, participants were randomly assigned to an exercise or a nonexercise control group. Immediately after practicing a motor task, the exercise group performed 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training while the control group rested. Twenty-four hours after motor practice all participants completed a test of the motor task to assess skill retention.

Results: The graded exercise test reduced interhemispheric imbalances in GABAA-mediated short-interval intracortical inhibition but changes in other markers of excitability were not statistically significant. The group that performed high-intensity interval training showed a better retention of the motor skill.

Conclusions: The performance of a maximal graded exercise test triggers only modest neuroplastic changes in patients with chronic stroke. However, a single bout of high-intensity interval training performed immediately after motor practice improves skill retention, which could potentially accelerate motor recovery in these individuals.

Keywords: cardiovascular exercise; memory; motor skill learning; neuronal plasticity; rehabilitation; stroke; transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Hand / physiopathology
  • High-Intensity Interval Training / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Learning* / physiology
  • Male
  • Memory* / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology
  • Motor Skills* / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiopathology
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Rest
  • Stroke / physiopathology
  • Stroke / psychology*
  • Stroke Rehabilitation* / methods
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation


  • Receptors, GABA-A