Stroke And Physical Activity

A stroke is a serious health condition that occurs when nutrient-and oxygen-rich blood supply is interrupted within the brain. Although strokes are generally preventable, the global incidence is continuing to rise, possibly as a result of relatively low awareness of its risk factors. Neglecting critical symptoms can result in severe brain damage, long-lasting disability, or sometimes may lead to death. 

Although the burden of stroke seems devastating, fortunately, seeking medical advice, choosing healthier lifestyle options, and engaging in physical activity can all help to lower the chances of stroke.

What is a stroke?

Like all body parts, the brain requires constant amounts of oxygen to function properly. If brain cells are deprived of oxygenated blood supply for even a short period of time, it can lead to serious consequences. A stroke, often known as a brain attack, occurs when the blood supply is disrupted, resulting in an emergency. Due to oxygen starvation, the brain cells begin to deteriorate, causing functional limitations. 

As the brain controls all our bodily functions, the manifestation of stroke symptoms can be wide-ranging. This depends on which brain area is affected, so it is necessary to act swiftly if you suspect any sign of stroke. 

In the UK, people are affected by this condition every five minutes. Moreover, a study reported that stroke is a leading contributor to adult disability.1

Strokes are generally classified into two groups, depending on the cause of the interrupted blood supply to the brain. 

  • Ischemic stroke (blockage): This is the most common type of stroke, constituting nearly 85% of cases. It occurs because of fatty build-up in the blood vessels, which may lead to a clot obstructing the blood supply. Ischemic strokes are similar to heart attacks; however, instead of the heart, the blockage is located in the brain. Hence, it is often referred to as a brain attack.

Sometimes, these clots can form as a result of an irregular heart rhythm (arterial fibrillation), which slows blood flow. This allows platelets and specialised circulating proteins like fibrin and clotting factors to clump together. The clot then travels up and blocks the blood flow, resulting in oxygen deprivation and slower brain function.

  • Hemorrhagic stroke: This type of stroke happens when a perforated blood vessel leaks out, spilling blood into the adjacent tissues. This bleeding creates pressure in the brain or on the nearby tissues, resulting in even more damage and irritation. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common and make up 15% of total cases.
  • Another related condition is called Transient ischaemic attack (TIA). TIA occurs when blood flow to the brain is temporarily hampered. Most of the time, the symptoms may last less than 24 hours. For this very reason, they are known as mini-strokes. However, the TIAs should be treated promptly even if the symptoms subside. This is because mini-strokes might be an early indicator of future stroke risk.

Symptoms of a stroke

A stroke can occur suddenly at any age. It is important to figure out the most common symptoms of stroke and seek medical help quickly. Symptoms include:

  • Feeling numbness on one side of the body (arms, legs, or feet). 
  • Facial drooping. 
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking clear words or phrases. 
  • Sudden loss of balance or coordination.
  • Memory loss and confusion.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Sudden severe headaches.
  • Dizziness and nausea. 
  • Changes in consciousness: fainting or, more rarely, having seizures.

Physical activity helps reduce the risk of a stroke

There are a number of reasons which suggest the significance of physical activity in preventing strokes. Regular physical activity helps to improve blood rheology (flow and biophysical properties) and cardiac health. Moreover, habitual exercise has positive effects on lowering stroke risk factors - such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and obesity. 

A study showed that people who make healthy lifestyle choices and engage in physical activity have reduced chances of developing stroke.2

Exercising after a stroke

Exercise is an efficient way to maintain your health through rehabilitation and recovery. It can help to manage your physical and social well-being. Since stroke is a complex condition, it is advised to talk with your physiotherapist about a safe exercise programme that could help to improve your physical abilities.

Types of exercise recommended after a stroke

The fundamental element to improving the post-stroke lifestyle is to implement meaningful changes with consistent physical activity. The following exercises for a stroke can have a significant effect. 

However, to ensure safe performance, it is advised to consult a doctor first about optimising physical activities according to your own particular needs.

Aerobic exercise: It improves heart endurance and keeps the lungs healthy. It also enhances motor skills and reduces fatigue in stroke survivors. The most effective aerobic activities are:

  • Walking
  • Treadmill
  • Stationary cycling

Other forms of cardiovascular exercise are also recommended.

Resistance Training: These exercises help in building muscle strength, stamina, and overall stability. For example: lugging groceries, standing up from a chair, and climbing stairs.

Stretching: Stretching before aerobic exercise can help to promote muscular flexibility and reduce joint tightness to regain balance while exercising.

Additionally, other activities like Zumba, pilates, water aerobics, and spin can be effective for well-being.

Can exercising help reduce the risk of another stroke?

Several studies have suggested that physical activity prevents stroke recurrence. Individuals who engage in low-to-moderate-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities have a lower risk of having another stroke.3 Furthermore, physical activity also helps to regain motivation and psychological wellness in stroke survivors.

When should you contact a doctor?

Since our brain does not have pain receptors, a person won't feel a blockage during a stroke. However, you can recognise the symptoms with the help of the FAST test and act quickly:

  • F - Facial weakness: Ask the individual to smile. Notice if there's a mouth or eye drooping. 
  • A - Arms weakness: See if they can lift their arms. Arm numbness may cause the arm to drift downward. 
  • S - Speech difficulty: Ask the individual to repeat a word or phrase you say to check slurred speech problems.
  • T - Time to call: If you recognize any of the three signs, call 999 immediately and seek medical treatment.


Stroke is a serious medical condition that can result in drastic lifestyle changes. It usually happens when oxygenated blood flow to the brain cells is interrupted. A stroke burden can have a huge toll on physical, emotional, and social well-being. However, fortunately, it is preventable by switching to healthier options and engaging in stroke exercises to maximise health recovery. 

Being physically active not only helps stroke survivors to regain muscular movement but also reduces the chances of recurring stroke. Since everyone has different needs, it is recommended to talk with your doctor about exercises that are safe and effective according to your medical condition. Moreover, it is essential to know about the FAST test to help prevent medical emergencies.


  1. Norrving B, Davis SM, Feigin VL, Mensah GA, Sacco RL, Varghese C. Stroke Prevention Worldwide - What Could Make It Work. Neuroepidemiology. 2015;45(3):215–20.
  2. Howard VJ, McDonnell MN. Physical Activity in Primary Stroke Prevention. Stroke. 2015 Jun;46(6):1735–9.
  3. Hou L, Li M, Wang J, Li Y, Zheng Q, Zhang L, et al. Association between physical exercise and stroke recurrence among first-ever ischemic stroke survivors. Scientific Reports. 2021 Jun 28;11(1).

Sadaf Ahmed

Master of Science - MSc, Physiology, Clinical & Molecular Hematology, Karachi University, Pakistan

Sadaf is an experienced writer who creates a quality and well-researched scripts particularly related to Health Sciences. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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