Curr Opin Neurol. 2016 Sep 21;
PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Converging evidence from animal models of stroke and clinical trials suggests that aerobic exercise has effects across multiple targets.
RECENT FINDINGS: The subacute phase is characterized by a period of heightened neuroplasticity when aerobic exercise has the potential to optimize recovery. In animals, low intensity aerobic exercise shrinks lesion size and reduces cell death and inflammation, beginning 24 h poststroke. Also in animals, aerobic exercise upregulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor near the lesion and improves learning. In terms of neuroplastic effects, clinical trial results are less convincing and have only examined effects in chronic stroke. Stroke patients demonstrate cardiorespiratory fitness levels below the threshold required to carry out daily activities. This may contribute to a 'neurorehabilitation ceiling' that limits capacity to practice at a high enough frequency and intensity to promote recovery. Aerobic exercise when delivered 2-5 days per week at moderate to high intensity beginning as early as 5 days poststroke improves cardiorespiratory fitness, dyslipidemia, and glucose tolerance.
SUMMARY: Based on the evidence discussed and applying principles of periodization commonly used to prepare athletes for competition, we have created a model of aerobic training in subacute stroke in which training is delivered in density blocks (duration × intensity) matched to recovery phases.