Health Tips: Filling in the gaps in post-stroke rehab

Aaron Ulland, 41, was “stroke patient one” in a daring new study that tested -- successfully -- the possibility of restoring the brain-muscle connection using tiny electrodes implanted in his brain to move a brace worn on his immobile arm. Although this was preliminary, the fact that the technology worked offers hope that, down the road, damaged neural connections can be restored with implanted electrical devices to give stroke victims independent function in their limbs.

Until that day, there’s an alternative for some stroke sufferers, according to a new pilot study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers found that exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation --three 31- to 50-minute exercise sessions weekly for 12 weeks -- significantly improves walking speed, cardiovascular endurance, functional strength and emotional health. 

The results indicated that exercise rehab should be done after post-stroke physical therapy (some participants had a stroke a year before they started the program). Many people could benefit. After all, an American has a stroke every 40 seconds, and 10% to 15% of stroke victims, like Aaron, are 18-49 years old. 

Unfortunately, cardiac rehab for stroke patients is not generally covered by insurers in the U.S. (unbelievable!). So if you or a loved one has had a stroke, your best bet is to talk with your doctor, hospital and physical therapists about finding a program in your area that can offer physical -- and financial -- support for your participation in exercise-based cardio rehab. And lobby lawmakers to make it mandatory for insurance to cover it. 

Is this your year for reconditioning?

There’s air conditioning, hair conditioning and, lately, err-conditioning. A new study in the journal Obesity found that in the past year, folks have become even more sedentary (in prepandemic years, 60% of Americans were inactive). Both intensity of and time spent doing exercise has decreased, and almost 28% of the study’s participants fessed up to gaining weight. 

As a remedy, a recent commentary in The Lancet suggests 2021 become the year of reconditioning. Echoing our POV, it says, “many of the changes previously blamed on disease or ageing are in fact due to inactivity and a loss of fitness.” Clearly, this past year has prematurely aged people of all chronological ages. So here’s your five-step reconditioning plan.

1. Set a monthly walking goal. For example, walk 3,000 steps daily in month one; add 1,000 steps monthly, up to 10,000 a day in month 10. That gives time to build endurance (you can always exceed your goals). To determine walking equivalents for cycling, swimming, etc., Google “Earlham Activity Conversion Chart.”

2. Increase your exercise intensity using interval training. (See 

DoctorOZ.com, “9 HIIT Exercises to Get Fit.” 

3. Adopt a strength-building routine two to three days weekly. See 

DoctorOz.com, “10 Strength Training Moves for Beginners.” 

4. Stretch 20 minutes daily. Go to health.clevelandclinic.org; search for “stretching.”

5. Keep workouts varied and flexible so you avoid injury and don’t get bored.

Once you do that -- apologies to singer-songwriter Mickey Newbury -- it will blow your mind when you “see what condition your condition” has become!

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