Physical Activity

Updated:May 29,2014
Bill Dodd

Getting Active, Staying Active

Physical activity improves heart function and lipid profile by lowering total cholesterol. It lowers blood pressure and resting heart rate. Being active reduces the risk and severity of diabetes by increasing insulin sensitivity, and it improves strength, balance, endurance and long-term brain health. For stroke survivors, these benefits can spell the difference between dependence and independence.

In addition to those physical benefits, exercise can enhance self-confidence and independence and reduce depression and anxiety. As survivor Lorraine Essig, 87, said, “I can be in a bad mood, but after I’ve done my exercises, that disappears.”

Since Lorraine’s stroke seven years ago, she works out three days a week, despite right-side weakness and challenges with her balance that require her to use a cane.

She starts with 10 minutes of pedaling on a portable exercise cycle she puts 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 benefit by adding 2.5 lb weights, strapped to her wrists or ankles depending on the exercise. “I started out doing each one 30 times, but it tired me out too much,” Lorraine said.


Physical Activity for Stroke Survivors

Growing Peace of Mind
Survivor David Layton of Summerfield, North Carolina has found that growing a summer garden is great for his recovery and his attitude. He shares some valuable tips on gardening with a disability.

My Garden of Independence
Survivor Marcia Rosenberg enjoys working in her garden built to match her abilities.

Going Down Hill and Loving It: Snow Skiing
Survivor Toni Johnson of Elk Rapids, Michigan had a stroke while skiing in 2002 at age 75. She made skiing again a goal of her recovery, and she has worked hard at it, even after breaking a leg in her first year back on the slopes. With the help of an adaptive sports group, Toni is not only skiing again but riding a recumbent tricycle. She may be an 80-year-old stroke survivor, but she is determined not to act her age!

Making Golf Accessible
Saving Strokes, a golf therapy program developed and run by the Western States Affiliate of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, has grown so much. More than 550 survivors have been through the program, and almost 800 more are expected to participate in events this year at 13 sites in California, Nevada and Utah. We have highlighted three California golfers in our coverage: Carl Valdrow, Bill Dodd and John Castiglia.

Martial Arts for Survivors!

Who’d have thought that an ancient Chinese martial art—tai chi—could improve the lives of modern-day stroke survivors? Tai chi consists of slow, coordinated movements of the head, trunk and limbs that require deep concentration and balance control.

Making a Splash
Water therapy may be a good alternative for survivors with balance problems and hemiparesis. This article explores this therapeutic option and gives resources for accessing it.


This content was last reviewed on 04/30/2014.