Although exercise has many benefits, a high amount of stress on the body can trigger negative events that one should look out for. It is of vital importance to understand the signs and symptoms of cardiac events, such as the occurrence of a stroke. Strokes occur when a blood vessel that is connected to the brain becomes extremely blocked from plaque build-up, causing a lack of oxygenated, nutrient-filled blood being delivered to the brain.
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in America today and can also cause long term changes leading to disability or lack of mobility/neuro-motor functioning. This type of cardiac event can happen at any age but generally affects those ages 55 and older, and as we age our risk of having a stroke become greater. Of all populations men, African Americans, and people with diabetes or heart disease are at the highest risk.
Some of the warning signs of having a stroke include sudden weakness of the face, arms or legs (especially on one side), sudden confusion or inability to speak, lack of vision, dizziness or coordination problems, and a sudden, severe headache. If you have any of these signs, stop exercise immediately and get to the hospital or call 9-1-1.
The major goal of exercise after a stroke should be to improve the overall quality of life for the victim. In addition to improving measures of quality of life, other measures such as functional capacity and mobility (i.e. increasing gait velocity), neurological impairment, and motor function (i.e. lowering the energy cost of a hemiparetic gait), will also benefit from regular exercise. The three major rehabilitation goals for the stroke patient are preventing complications of prolonged inactivity, decreasing recurrent stroke and cardiovascular events, and increasing aerobic fitness.
Before beginning an exercise program, the two most important things to consider are if the benefit outweighs the risk, as well as, the severity of the stroke. A stroke victim should be evaluated by a medical professional before initiating a program—performing strength and aerobic training can lead to serious musculoskeletal injury.
To prevent muscle deterioration from prolonged inactivity, performing exercises that mimic movements of everyday life activities (i.e. standing from a seated position, squatting down, walking, reaching overhead) should performed regularly. Moreover, moving the entire body throughout its full range of motion should also be considered. In terms of aerobic fitness, stroke patients have been shown to achieve significantly lower maximal workloads and heart rate and blood pressure responses than control subjects during progressive exercise testing to volitional fatigue.
Setting reasonable goals to return to pre-stroke fitness levels as opposed to above baseline levels should be aimed for. Exercising will be significantly harder post-stroke, but is of vital importance for the individual in order to improve their quality of life.
By Anthony Locast
Gordon, Neil F., et al. “Physical Activity and Exercise Recommendations for Stroke Survivors.”Circulation, American Heart Association, Inc., 27 Apr. 2004, circ.ahajournals.org/content/109/16/2031.