Aug. 22 (UPI) -- For people who have had a stroke, getting exercise may be the key to regaining mobility, new research shows.
Up to 80 percent of stroke patients benefited from high-intensity activities like fast walking and climbing stairs, according to a study published Thursday in Stroke. Those who performed these exercises were able to recover their mobility faster than those who engaged in only light walking.
"People who suffer strokes often have difficulty walking and impaired balance," T. George Hornby, a researcher at Indiana University and study author, said in a news release. "Rehabilitation after a stroke traditionally focuses on patients practicing low-intensity walking, usually only in a forward direction, which does not provide enough of a challenge to the nervous system to enable patients to negotiate real-world situations, such as uneven surfaces, stairs or changing direction."
The researchers designed a training regimen for 90 patients between ages 18 and 85 who had suffered strokes within the previous six months. The patients either trained with difficult, high-intensity variable step exercises, with high-intensity forward walking or with low-intensity stepping while doing variable tasks.
Those variable tasks consisted of walking across a balance beam, up inclines and stairs, over multiple objects placed on a treadmill and on uneven surfaces.
Between 57 percent and 80 percent of patients in each high-intensity group improved their dynamic balance while walking and received other clinical gains. That's compared to between 9 percent and 31 percent of patients who performed low-intensity walking exercises.
This research adds to growing evidence that exercise after a stroke can help survivors regain mobility and independence.
The researchers hope the new findings will push clinicians to add high-intensity variable step training into normal stroke protocol.
"Our study suggests that stroke patients can perform higher intensity walking exercises and more difficult tasks than previously thought possible," Hornby said. "We need to move beyond traditional, low-intensity rehabilitation to challenge the nervous and cardiovascular systems so patients can improve function and perform better in the real world."