Regular brisk walking can help recovery, fitness and quality of life after a stroke, say researchers in the journal Stroke. 

A three-month study found outdoor walking three times a week boosted endurance and resting heart rate.

Those taking part were able to walk independently or with a cane but researchers said many stroke survivors lack energy and fear falling.

A stroke charity said other exercises could help those unable to walk.

It is not the first time researchers have looked at the impact of low-stress exercise on stroke recovery, but previous studies tested exercise equipment such as treadmills or stationery bikes.

A team from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica wanted to assess exercise that could be done by anyone anywhere.

They devised a walking programme in the community where participants initially walked supervised along a 15-minute route three times a week, building up over 12 weeks to 30 minutes.

Quality of life

Among 128 men and women who took part in the study, those who took up walking had a 16.7% improved quality of life due to better physical health compared with patients who had usual care with therapeutic massage.

The walkers could also get 17.6% further in a six-minute walking endurance test.

Researchers found that those in the massage-only group had a 6.7% higher resting heart rate after three months.

Study leader Dr Carron Gordon, a lecturer in physical therapy, said: “Walking is a great way to get active after a stroke.

“It’s familiar, inexpensive, and it’s something people could very easily get into.”

She added that after a stroke, many people lack energy and are afraid of falling while walking and withdraw from meaningful activities like shopping and visiting friends and family.

The average age of those taking part was 64 and had a stroke between six and 24 months before starting the exercise programme.

Risk factors

Dr Gordon said the results were applicable to any population as long as their stroke had left them able to walk and, over time, family and friends could go for walks with them rather than relying on an instructor.

“Walking can help control blood pressure, reduce lipid or fat levels and help with weight control – all cardiovascular risk factors,” she added.

“So doctors should encourage it for patients who have had a stroke.”

Dr Clare Walton, research communications officer at the Stroke Association, said exercise after a stroke can help boost both physical and mental recovery.

“It encourages the brain to use pathways that may have been damaged by the stroke and enables the individual to relearn how to do certain movements.

“Although the results of this study are not surprising, it is good to see that walking alone can have such positive effects on quality of life.”

She added that for stroke survivors who may not be able to walk, there are other seated exercises which can increase your heart rate and improve overall well-being.

BBC News