Chronic stroke survivors benefit from high-intensity aerobic treadmill exercise: a randomized control trial

Christoph Globas, Clemens Becker, Joachim Cerny, Judith M Lam, Ulrich Lindemann, Larry W Forrester, Richard F Macko, Andreas R Luft
Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair 2012, 26 (1): 85-95

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Ambulatory subjects after stroke may benefit from gait-oriented cardiovascular fitness training, but trials to date have not primarily assessed older persons.

METHODS: Thirty-eight subjects (age >60 years) with residual hemiparetic gait were enrolled >6 months after stroke. Participants were randomized to receive 3 months (3×/week) progressive graded, high-intensity aerobic treadmill exercise (TAEX) or conventional care physiotherapy. Primary outcome measures were peak exercise capacity (Vo(2peak)) and sustained walking capacity in 6-minute walks (6MW). Secondary measures were gait velocity in 10-m walks, Berg Balance Scale, functional leg strength (5 chair-rise), self-rated mobility (Rivermead Mobility Index), and quality of life (SF-12).

RESULTS: Thirty-six participants completed the study (18 TAEX, 18 controls). TAEX but not conventional care improved Vo(2peak) (difference 6.4 mL/kg/min, P < .001) and 6MW (53 m, P < .001). Likewise, maximum walking speed (0.13 m/s, P = .01), balance (P < .05), and the mental subscore of the SF-12 (P < .01) improved more after TAEX. Gains in Vo(2peak) correlated with the degree at which training intensity could be progressed in the individual participant (P < .01). Better walking was related to progression in treadmill velocity and training duration (P < .001). Vo(2peak) and 6MW performances were still higher 1 year after the end of training when compared with the baseline, although endurance walking (6MW) at 1 year was lower than immediately after training (P < .01).

CONCLUSION: This trial demonstrates that TAEX effectively improves cardiovascular fitness and gait in persons with chronic stroke.

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