Relearning how to do simple things after a stroke can be frustrating. But recovery isn’t the only worry there is. Preventing a second stroke is also high on the list of priorities. Just the thought of another stroke setting you back is scary. But, unfortunately, it is not that uncommon. Research shows that stroke survivors, especially first-timers, have a significantly higher risk of getting other strokes in the future. However, taking care of ourselves and staying healthy can help us avoid another one.
There are things we can do to take matters into our own hands
Did you know that staying active can make a huge difference in protecting your health after a stroke? Physical activity can reduce your risk of getting recurrent strokes. Sounds simple enough, but there’s a catch. It turns out that staying active is the very thing stroke survivors have a lot of trouble keeping up with. You might have the best intentions to stay focused on your activity goal. But the truth is, it’s a difficult, uphill climb that can be daunting. In general, the physical activity level of stroke survivors is pretty low. And it’s no wonder. When you’re relearning how to walk and regaining muscle functions, a regular workout that was no big deal in the past could now wipe you out in just a few minutes.
What barriers can we overcome to increase our steps?
Therapists wanted to figure out ways in which we can optimize stroke recovery and up activity levels. They decided to gather as much detailed information about daily walking in stroke survivors in order to develop better therapies in the future. They wanted to identify barriers that keep stroke survivors from getting their steps in. By finding out what gets in the way of motivation and progress, they hoped to develop tailored therapies directed at overcoming these hurdles.
To do this, Japanese researchers studied movement patterns of stroke patients in their own homes. They recorded and compared daily step counts and walking patterns between those who suffered a recent stroke and people who didn’t. The results confirmed what we already suspected. Stroke survivors walk much less than healthy people at home, only 8000 steps compared to 11000 steps in healthy people of the same age. Besides reduced step count, stroke survivors tend to walk less often as well. This means that whatever is keeping them from walking is probably discouraging them to even start walking in the first place. This gave researchers an idea. If stroke patients could overcome whatever is deterring them from wanting to get up and walk around, maybe they could also increase their step count to healthier levels.
It’s not just about frequency, but duration too
Researchers theorized that bouts of walking that were of an average distance made up the bulk of daily step counts. Thus, the less patients got up to walk, the fewer step counts they ended up accumulating by the end of the day. To overcome low step counts, patients need to pay attention to two aspects of a walking activity. Not only do they need to get up more and walk more frequently, but they need to pay attention to how long they walk each time. Increasing the number of walks and varying the number of steps per walk can help achieve better physical activity levels and reduce recurrent stroke risk.
So, don’t hesitate to get up out of your chair. The more often you get up, the more you’ll walk, reducing your risk of another stroke one step at a time.
The lead author of this study was Wataru Nakano, from the Department of Physical Therapy at Tsukuba International University, in Ibaraki, Japan.