Neighborhood Gyms Can Be a Lifeline for Stroke Survivors

Exercise is crucial to recovering from a stroke, helping victims regain lost physical and mental function.

And stroke survivors are more likely to remain physically active — or even exercise more than before — if they have access to a neighborhood rec center or gym, a new study finds.

The odds of a patient being more active in recovery than before their stroke was 57% higher among participants who lived in areas with more recreational and fitness resources, according to findings to be presented next week at the American Stroke Association’s annual meeting in Phoenix.

Similarly, the odds of maintaining the same level of physical activity one year after a stroke were 47% higher in people living near rec centers and gyms.

“Our findings suggest that it’s important to have a conversation with stroke patients about physical activity resources available in their area so they are able to continue their recovery after hospital discharge,” said lead researcher Jeffrey Wing, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University.

This access to fitness resources is so important that doctors should consider it a factor in a patient’s release, Wing added.

“If their neighborhood does not offer fitness resources, neurologists should consider discharging the patient to a rehabilitation facility where they can participate in physical activities,” Wing said in a meeting news release.

For the study, researchers tracked 333 New York City residents who’d had a mild stroke, comparing the vicinity of their homes to fitness centers, gyms and pools.

About 17% of the patients said they were more physically active a year after their stroke, and 48% said they had maintained the same level of physical activity as before the stroke.

Previous research has found that characteristics of a neighborhood’s built environment — such as access to healthy foods or recreational spaces that promote exercise — are linked to a lower incidence of stroke, Wing said.

“The takeaway from this analysis is that it’s not that people should move to a location where there are more resources to engage in physical activity, but to urge people to find ways to be active in their own neighborhood,” said co-researcher Julie Strominger, a doctoral student of epidemiology at Ohio State University,. “It’s the action that will lead to better outcomes, so just the action of being physically active is what really matters.”

Daniel Lackland, a professor of epidemiology with the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, praised the study’s focus on stroke survivors.

“It’s important for health care professionals to discuss maintaining physical activity with stroke survivors: find out if they know of a safe place to exercise, and if they do not, have that information readily available,” said Lackland, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Findings presented at a medical meeting are considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The American Stroke Association has more on exercise following a stroke.

SOURCE: American Stroke Association, news release, Feb. 1, 2024