Using aerobic exercise to improve health outcomes and quality of life in stroke: Evidence-based exercise prescription recommendations

Marco Yiu Chung Pang, Sarah A. Charlesworth, Ricky W.K. Lau, Raymond C.K. Chung

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

118 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Stroke patients often suffer from poor cardiovascular health and deficits in physical, psychosocial and cognitive functioning. Aerobic exercise training may be a viable treatment approach to address these health issues. The objective of this systematic review was to determine the effects of aerobic exercise on various indicators of health, functioning and quality of life in stroke patients. It was hypothesized that the systematic review would reveal compelling support for the effectiveness of aerobic exercise in stroke patients, such that detailed evidence-based exercise prescription recommendations could be derived. Methods: Major electronic databases were searched systematically to identify randomized controlled studies that examined the effects of aerobic exercise in stroke patients (last search performed in January 2012). The methodological quality of each study was evaluated using the PEDro scale (9-10 = excellent; 6-8 = good; 4-5 = fair; <4 = poor). Based on the methodological quality and sample size used, the level of evidence was determined for each study (level 1: PEDro ≥6 and sample size >50; level 2: PEDro ≤5 or sample size ≤50). Meta-analysis was performed on a given outcome when appropriate. Results: Twenty-five trials fulfilled the selection criteria, of which 8 were level 1 studies. Treadmill and cycle ergometer were the two most popular modalities used to provide aerobic training. The most commonly adopted exercise session duration and frequency was 21-40 min and 3-5 days per week, respectively. The duration of the training programme varied, ranging from 3 weeks to 6 months. Over 60% of the trials used a high training intensity [60-80% heart rate reserve (HRR)]. Meta-analysis showed a significant effect on peak oxygen consumption (p < 0.001), peak workload (p < 0.001), maximal gait speed (p = 0.003) and walking endurance (p < 0.001) in favour of aerobic exercise. Meta-analysis revealed no significant effect on self-selected gait speed, Berg balance score and Functional Independence Measure score. The efficacy of aerobic exercise in improving other health outcomes in physical, psychosocial and cognitive domains as well as quality of life was inconclusive. The health risk associated with engaging in such exercise is small. Conclusions: There is strong evidence that aerobic exercise (40-50% HRR progressing to 60-80%) conducted 20-40 min and 3-5 days per week is beneficial for enhancing aerobic fitness, walking speed and walking endurance in people who have had mild to moderate stroke and are deemed to have low cardiovascular risk with exercise after proper screening assessments (grade A recommendation). The effects of aerobic exercise on other health outcomes require further study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-22
Number of pages16
JournalCerebrovascular Diseases
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2013


  • Cardiovascular
  • Cerebrovascular accident
  • Exercise training
  • Physical activity
  • Stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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