Aerobic Exercise May Improve Motor Function, Mood After Stroke

Alternative Therapies continued
Alternative Therapies continued
Forced exercise was particularly effective in improving motor function and quality of life.

NASHVILLE — In addition to being safe and feasible, aerobic exercise, either forced or voluntary, improved motor function, mood, quality of life, and cardiovascular fitness when paired with half dosage of repetitive task practice (RTP), according to new data.

Susan M. Linder, PT, DPT, NCS, of the department of biomedical engineering at Cleveland Clinic, and colleagues conducted the study to determine whether aerobic exercise influences motor recovery and non-motor function in patients with stroke.

The results were presented at the International Stroke Conference 2015.

In an interview with Neurology Advisor, Linder said that her team previously looked at the positive effects of forced exercise training in patients with Parkinson’s disease and found that lower extremity activity improved upper extremity symptoms.

“We also did a [structural magnetic resonance imaging] study that showed increased activation in the brain comparable to medications Parkinson’s patients would take,” she said. “Based on those results indicating that the brain is being altered by aerobic exercise training, we looked to see if we could exploit that same benefit in stroke patients and pair the exercise training with traditional upper extremity rehabilitation.”

The study included patients who had a stroke six to 12 months before enrollment. Patients received RTP (n=5), voluntary exercise plus RTP (n=6) or forced exercise plus RTP (n=6); those who were in the aerobic exercise groups received half the dosage of RTP.

In all three groups, there were significant improvements in Fugl-Meyer assessed motor function (P=.03). However, the forced exercise group scores exceeded those in the other groups, nearing statistical significance (P=.06).

Similarly, Linder and colleagues reported improvements in self-reported quality of life and depressive symptoms in all three groups, with a trend favoring the forced exercise group. In addition, peak oxygen consumption improved by 1.1 mL/kg/min in the forced exercise group and 2.68 mL/kg/min in the voluntary exercise group, whereas it decreased by 0.85 mL/kg/min in the RTP group.

“These results seem to indicate that aerobic exercise, and forced exercise in particular, might truly prime the brain to enhance the effects of motor recovery,” Linder said.  “We also found that cardiovascular fitness improved in both aerobic fitness groups, but did not change in the RTP group.”

Going forward, Linder said her team is planning to expand study enrollment to more conclusively address whether there is benefit with aerobic exercise following stroke.

For more coverage of the International Stroke Conference 2015, go here.


  1. Linder S et al. Abstract 144. Presented at: International Stroke Conference 2015; Feb. 11-13, 2015; Nashville, Tennessee.