Here at The YMCA of Greater Toronto, we respect and admire the expert advice provided by our partners at The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. That’s why we’re excited to bring you even more great reading material written by their team! In this next piece, Heart and Stroke experts outline important considerations for anyone who has had a stroke and is thinking about at-home exercise.

Exercise is a good way to maintain your health through recovery, rehabilitation, and the rest of your life. It helps keep you fit and healthy — physically and mentally — to reduce the chance of another stroke and to improve your quality of life. During coronavirus self-isolation, there are also plenty of ways for you to get active from home.

But stroke is a complex condition that can impact your ability to exercise safely. People living with stroke have different needs. Some want to pursue a more traditional rehab program under the supervision of trained physiotherapists, but barriers like insurance coverage or transportation may keep them from doing so. Others prefer programs in their community or at home.

The good news is that more fitness providers are being trained to deliver exercise programs that are suitable for people recovering from a stroke. Other programs are being developed and evaluated to enable stroke survivors to exercise independently, at home or in community groups. Be sure to talk to your healthcare providers about programs in your community and get their guidance around the best options for your unique needs. Here are some of the basics to consider as you make your recovery plan.

Keys to success with exercise after stroke

1. Talk to your stroke team about whether or not you are ready to exercise before starting any program.
Why?
Only your stroke team knows if it is safe for you to participate in an exercise program.

2. Work with a stroke physiotherapist and other team members to choose the right program for you.
Why? Assessing your personal goals, medical condition, and ability means that you will be matched to a program that is safe and effective for you.

3. Be re-assessed periodically by your fitness provider.
Why?
Regular assessments will ensure that you are doing your exercises properly — for both safety and effectiveness. An expert can also guide you in adjusting the level of challenge to help you progress toward your goals.

4. Exercise is hard work, but keep at it, and progress will come.
Why? Many tasks are repetitive — even boring at times — and take a lot of effort, but there is lots of research to show that exercise benefits people who have had a stroke.

5. Exercise with others.
Why?
Research shows that exercising with others keeps it more interesting and helps your motivation.

6. Stay motivated. What works best to keep you motivated? Do you have a favourite type of exercise? Do you like to listen to music while you work out? Try setting weekly goals and reward yourself when you reach them!
Why?
Knowing what motivates you to exercise will help you keep at it for the long-term.

7. Stop the exercise if things start to feel wrong in your body or you have difficulty breathing. If you don’t feel better after a few minutes, stop and check in with your doctor or stroke team member as soon as possible.
Why?
Exercise shouldn’t make you feel unwell.

8. Talk to your physiotherapist about hip protectors. If you do fall, check in with your doctor or stroke team member.
Why?
Stroke can cause poor balance and you may have osteoporosis. Both are risks for hip fracture.

9. If your exercises are painful, stop! Work with a physiotherapist or a trained fitness provider to modify the exercise so that you are in a pain-free range.
Why?
Only do exercises that are within your abilities. The benefits of exercise outweigh the risk of injury as long as they are done safely.

Finding a program that’s right for you

Now that you know some of the ground rules, what kind of exercise should you be doing?

Broadly, there are four main types of exercise. Talk with your healthcare team to find out which combination is right for you.

1. Endurance (aerobic)
Improves your heart and lung fitness, reduces fatigue, and increases your energy to be active throughout your day.

2. Strength
Increases your muscle strength so it is easier to do everyday things like climb stairs, get up from a chair, and carry groceries.

3. Balance
Makes it easier to move about in your home and in the community, and reduces your risk of falls.

4. Stretching
Keeps your muscles relaxed and your joints mobile so that you can get dressed and reach for objects more easily.

We know it’s harder than usual right now to explore community-based exercise programs or to work directly with a physiotherapist. Virtual exercise classes that you can do from home are often a good alternative. As you discuss your options with your team, consider the many fitness options our YMCA provides free of charge every day right here on The Bright Spot.

Thanks to our partners at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada for their expert advice. Look out for more relevant information on our site, or visit theirs for more details.