Researchers at the University of South Carolina analysed studies tracking 500 stroke survivors (aged 54 to 71) as they completed aerobic exercise programmes.

Participants, aged 54 to 71, attended two to three sessions per week for about three months.

Of nearly two dozen different exercise groups, walking was the most common type of activity, followed by stationary cycling and then mixed mode aerobic exercise. Physical abilities were tested before and after the intervention.

Looking at results by activity type, researchers found:

  • Mixed aerobic activity provides the best result (four treatment groups) followed by walking (12 treatment groups).
  • Cycling or recumbent stepping (machine that allows stepping while in seated position) while still significant was the least effective (seven treatment groups).
  • Overall, participants significantly improved their endurance level and walking speed.
  • On average, participants walked almost half the length of a football field further during a six-minute walking test. Participants with mild movement impairments benefited the most.

These benefits were realised regardless of how long it had been since their stroke.

Lead author Elizabeth Regan said: “Our analysis included stroke survivors across a wide range, from less than six months to greater than a year since their stroke, and the benefits were seen whether they started an aerobic exercise programme one month or one year after having a stroke.”

Co-author, Dr Stacy Fritz said: “Cardiac rehab programmes may be a viable option for patients after a stroke who have health risks and endurance losses similar to traditional cardiac rehab participants.

“Almost every hospital has a cardiac rehab programme, so it’s an existing platform that could be used for stroke survivors. Funneling patients with stroke into these existing programmes may be an easy, cost-effective solution with long-term benefits.”

While the study suggests group-based aerobic exercise programmes improve health and endurance in stroke survivors, no control group analysis was performed for results comparison.

Limited follow-up data was available to determine whether the health benefits persisted.

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