In the initial days after a stroke, it may be difficult or impossible for your loved one to walk. However, as they regain that ability it is important to constantly practice walking in order to promote stroke recovery. Recovery from stroke is a lifelong pursuit with small gains made over the course of months and years. Without practice, the brain is not stimulated and therefore the body cannot relearn the motion it has lost. Walking promotes movement, strength, balance and the flow of oxygen to the brain.
Walking is important to stroke victims. A study published by the National Institutes of Health says that improved walking ability is one of the top goals of people undergoing stroke rehabilitation. Although 65% to 85% of stroke survivors learn to walk independently six months after a stroke, walking endurance remains a significant area of difficulty. In fact, stroke patients spend more of their rehabilitation time practicing walking compared to all other activities.
The NIH study also showed what can happen when stroke victims don’t walk and why it is so important to stroke care. One of the challenges is that rehabilitation in a clinical setting rarely extends beyond one year. That actually creates a plateau in functional recovery. When physical activity stops, or continues at a low level, it does not address the muscle weakness and poor balance that can be a long lasting side effect of stroke.
Walking can promote stroke recovery when it is used to encourage building strength, stamina, and the ability to walk a flight of stairs. That also reduces the risk of falls and other complications like osteoporosis and heart disease. The American Stroke Association says that regular physical activity can help to promote stroke recovery and may also help to:
- Improve blood cholesterol
- Manage diabetes
- Combat obesity
- Control blood pressure
Start walking slowly to promote stroke recovery
After a long period of recovery, many stroke survivors may have atrophied muscles and reduced stamina. That’s why it’s important to start very slowly on a new walking regimen. The following process is recommended by the American Stroke Association:
- Activity on most days of the week is important
- Progress at a slow and steady pace
- Build activity as strength and endurance increases
- Start with 10 minutes a day
- It can be broken into two 5 minute segments
- The goal is to accumulate 10 minutes of physical activity over the course of the day
Promoting stroke recovery through exercise
The American Stroke Association gives a great example of how exercise can increase stroke recovery. Lorraine suffered a stroke seven years ago. Despite right-side weakness and relying on a cane for balance she exercises every day.
She starts with 10 minutes of pedaling on a portable exercise cycle placed in front of her chair. Then she does a balancing exercise — standing on both feet, she raises her arms to shoulder height, closes her eyes and counts to 60.
Holding onto her walker, she does 20 steps in place, bringing her knees as high as the handholds on her walker.
Then she does a routine of 14 exercises 20 times each; she increases the benefit by adding 2.5 lb weights, strapped to her wrists or ankles depending on the exercise.
Lorraine had to build up to these exercises, but they keep her recovery strong and her energy high.
Walking to promote stroke recovery is essential, and provides many health benefits as well as increasing self-confidence and self-esteem for stroke survivors. Exercise ideas for seniors can be tough to introduce to your loved one. However, it is necessary, sometimes fun activities can help break the ice of recovery, too.
Learn about our caregiving service here.