Stroke Recovery Time: Can Exercise For Arms And Legs Prevent Strokes?
A simple squeeze to your arms and legs might benefit your brain — turns out, the added pressure may improve the regulation of blood flow to your brain as well as levels of stroke-protective molecules, a new study suggests.
The study found that people who wore an inflated blood pressure cuff on one arm and leg for minutes at a time experienced more controlled blood flow to their brains. This method also increased molecules in the blood previously suggested to play a protective role in the brain, such as in preventing stroke, a group of researchers reported today (May 29) in the journal Neurology.
A stroke happens when the blood flow to your brain is interrupted. If oxygen-rich blood doesn’t reach your brain, brain cells begin to die and permanent brain damage can occur.
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, affecting around 800,000 people each year. Many people survive a stroke and recover with rehabilitation such as occupational, speech, or physical therapy. Depending on severity and how long blood flow was interrupted, a stroke can cause temporary or permanent disability. The sooner you recognize signs of a stroke and seek medical attention, the better your chances of recovering and avoiding serious brain damage or disability.
According to previous research has suggested that “training” organs by restricting blood flow — and therefore oxygen — to them through periodically compressing the arms and legs may make them more resilient when problems arise.
For example, a trained heart may be more resistant to changes in blood flow during a heart attack. And such training may allow the brain to better regulate that organ’s blood flow despite changes in blood pressure, a process called “cerebral autoregulation,” the authors said.
According to the Harvard Health Blog, research findings suggest that yoga may improve stroke recovery, especially for people with balance issues or fear of falling. Yoga promotes smooth physical movements, improved breathing, and mental focus that may have been lost after a stroke.
Another popular exercise for stroke prevention and recovery is tai chi. Tai chi is a Chinese exercise consisting of slow and graceful movements practiced in a semi-squatting position.
Research from 2015 showed that tai chi helps improve body balance and reduces depression and anxiety. In 2017, many of those same researchers published a study suggesting that tai chi has a role as a protective measure against ischemic stroke in older adults.
“It is generally believed that impairment of cerebral autoregulation may increase the risk of brain injury, especially stroke,” said study senior author Dr. Yi Yang, a neurologist at the First Hospital of Jilin University in China. “And there is currently no report on how to improve cerebral autoregulation in order to reduce the risk.”
Training The Body
In the new study, the researchers enrolled nearly 50 healthy people who were, on average, 35 years of age. Each person went through two consecutive days of blood pressure monitoring. On the second day, they were hooked up to blood pressure cuffs, one on the upper arm and one on the thigh.
The blood pressure cuff was inflated for 5 minutes and then deflated for 5 minutes, and this process was repeated four times. The researchers took participants’ blood pressure at the start of the day and periodically throughout the next 24 hours.
They found that 6 hours after having the cuff compressions, people had improved cerebral autoregulation, which remained improved for at least 18 hours. The researchers measured cerebral autoregulation in part by using an ultrasound to measure blood flow within the brain’s two main arteries.
The scientists also took blood samples at the start of each day and 1 hour after the compressions. They found that an hour after the compressions, the participants had increased numbers of certain biomarkers — molecules that act like signals pointing to the presence of a condition in the body — compared with their levels before the experiment.
Specifically, they found an increase in two biomarkers known to protect the nervous system. One of them, called the “glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor,” has been previously found to promote cell survival and help regenerate and restore damaged neurons.
What Are The Different Types Of Stroke?
Strokes fall into three main categories: transient ischemic attack (TIA), ischemic stroke, and hemorrhagic stroke. These categories are further broken down into other types of strokes, including:
- Embolic stroke.
- Thrombotic stroke.
- Intracerebral stroke.
- Subarachnoid stroke.
What Causes A stroke?
The cause of a stroke depends on the type of stroke. The three main types of stroke are transient ischemic attack (TIA), ischemic stroke, and hemorrhagic stroke.
A TIA is caused by a temporary blockage in an artery that leads to the brain. The blockage, typically a blood clot, stops blood from flowing to certain parts of the brain. A TIA typically lasts for a few minutes up to a few hours, and then the blockage moves and blood flow is restored.
Like a TIA, an ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage in an artery that leads to the brain. This blockage may be a blood clot, or it may be caused by atherosclerosis. With this condition, plaque (a fatty substance) builds up on the walls of a blood vessel. A piece of the plaque can break off and lodge in an artery, blocking the flow of blood and causing an ischemic stroke.
A hemorrhagic stroke, on the other hand, is caused by a burst or leaking blood vessel. Blood seeps into or around the tissues of the brain, causing pressure and damaging brain cells.
There are two possible causes of a hemorrhagic stroke. An aneurysm (a weakened, bulging section of a blood vessel) can be caused by high blood pressure and can lead to a burst blood vessel. Less often, a condition called an arteriovenous malformation, which is an abnormal connection between your veins and arteries, can lead to bleeding in the brain.
Symptoms Of A Stroke
Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke and getting help as quickly as possible can lead to a better outlook. Early intervention can reduce the amount of time the blood flow to your brain is disrupted. Some of these symptoms of stroke are:
1. Sudden Weakness
Sudden weakness or numbness in your arms, legs, or face is a typical sign of stroke, especially if it’s on only one side of your body. If you smile and look in the mirror, you may notice that one side of your face droops. If you try and raise both arms, you may have difficulty lifting one side. Depending on the severity, a stroke can also lead to paralysis on one side of your body.
2. Sudden Confusion
A stroke can cause sudden confusion. For example, if you’re typing on your computer or having a conversation, you may suddenly have difficulty speaking, thinking, or understanding speech.
3. Sudden changes in vision
Loss of vision or difficulty seeing in one or both eyes is another symptom of stroke. You may suddenly lose your vision completely, or experience blurred or double vision.
4. Sudden loss of balance
Due to weakness on one side, you may experience difficulty with walking, loss of balance or coordination, or dizziness.
5. Sudden headache
If a severe headache develops suddenly with no known cause, you might be having a stroke. This headache may be accompanied by dizziness or vomiting. If you have a history of migraine headaches, it may be difficult to identify this or vision problems as signs of stroke. Talk with your doctor about how to determine whether you’re having a stroke or a migraine.
After A Stroke
Stroke symptoms can develop slowly over hours or days. If you have a mini stroke, also known as transient ischemic attack (TIA), symptoms are temporary and usually improve within hours. In this case, you may blame sudden symptoms on stress, a migraine, or nerve problems.
Any signs or symptoms of stroke require further investigation by a doctor. If you get to the hospital within three hours of the first symptoms of an ischemic stroke, your doctor can give you a medication to dissolve blood clots and restore blood flow to your brain. Fast action improves your odds of recovering fully after a stroke. It also reduces the severity of disabilities that can result from a stroke.
A simple FAST test can help you identify a stroke in yourself and others.
- Face. Ask the person to smile. Look for signs of drooping on one side of the face.
- Arms. Ask the person to raise their arms. Look for a downward drift in one arm.
- Speech. Ask the person to repeat a phrase without slurring. For example, you could have them say “The early bird catches the worm.”
- Time. Waste no time. Immediately call your local emergency services if you or someone you know shows signs of a stroke.
An important aspect of stroke prevention is understanding which risk factors can be controlled.
Uncontrollable risk factors are:
- A family history of stroke.
- A personal history of stroke.
Common controllable risk factors for stroke include:
- The use of alcohol or drugs, such as cocaine.
- A lack of exercise or physical activity.
- A poor diet.
- An unhealthy weight.
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels.
- High blood pressure.
How To Prevent A stroke?
You can take steps to help prevent stroke by living a healthy lifestyle. This includes the following measures:
- Quit smoking.If you smoke, quitting now will lower your risk for stroke.
- Consume alcohol in moderation.If you drink excessively, try to reduce your intake. Alcohol consumption can raise your blood pressure.
- Keep weight down. Keep your weight at a healthy level. Being obese or overweight increases your stroke risk. To help manage your weight:
- Eat a diet that’s full of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat foods low in cholesterol, trans fats, and saturated fats.
- Stay physically active. This will help you maintain a healthy weight and help reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Get checkups. Stay on top of your health. This means getting regular checkups and staying in communication with your doctor. Be sure to take the following steps to manage your health:
- Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked.
- Talk to your doctor about modifying your lifestyle.
- Discuss your medication options with your doctor.
- Address any heart problems you may have.
- If you have diabetes, take steps to manage it.
If you suspect you’re experiencing symptoms of a stroke, it’s vital that you seek emergency medical treatment. Clot-busting medication can only be provided in the first hours after the signs of a stroke begin, and early treatment is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk for long-term complications and disability.
- Signs and symptoms of stroke. (n.d.). understanding stroke signs and symptoms
- Types of stroke. (2018).
- What is stroke? (n.d.).