Background and purpose: We investigated the effect of higher therapeutic exercise doses on walking during inpatient rehabilitation, typically commencing 1 to 4 weeks poststroke.
Methods: This phase II, blinded-assessor, randomized controlled trial recruited from 6 Canadian inpatient rehabilitation units, between 2014 and 2018. Subjects (n=75; 25/group) were randomized into: control (usual care) physical therapy: typically, 1 hour, 5 days/week; Determining Optimal Post-Stroke Exercise (DOSE1): 1 hour, 5 days/week, more than double the intensity of Control (based on aerobic minutes and walking steps); and DOSE2: 2 hours, 5 days/week, more than quadruple the intensity of Control, each for 4 weeks duration. The primary outcome, walking endurance at completion of the 4-week intervention (post-evaluation), was compared across these groups using linear regression. Secondary outcomes at post-evaluation, and longitudinal outcomes at 6 and 12-month evaluations, were also analyzed.
Results: Both DOSE1 (mean change 61 m [95% CI, 9-113], P=0.02) and DOSE2 (mean change 58 m, 6-110, P=0.03) demonstrated greater walking endurance compared with Control at the post-evaluation. Significant improvements were also observed with DOSE2 in gait speed (5-m walk), and both DOSE groups in quality of life (EQ-5D-5 L) compared with Control. Longitudinal analyses revealed that improvements in walking endurance from the DOSE intervention were retained during the 1-year follow-up period over usual care.
Conclusions: This study provides the first preliminary evidence that patients with stroke can improve their walking recovery and quality of life with higher doses of aerobic and stepping activity within a critical time period for neurological recovery. Furthermore, walking endurance benefits achieved from a 4-week intervention are retained over the first-year poststroke. Registration: URL: https://www.clinicaltrials.gov. Unique identifier: NCT01915368.
Keywords: exercise; follow-up; rehabilitation; stroke; walking.