Physical fitness training for stroke patients

David H Saunders, Mark Sanderson, Miriam Brazzelli, Carolyn A Greig, Gillian E Mead

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

145 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Levels of physical fitness are low after stroke. It is unknown whether improving physical fitness after stroke reduces disability.

OBJECTIVES: To determine whether fitness training after stroke reduces death, dependence, and disability. The secondary aims were to determine the effects of training on physical fitness, mobility, physical function, quality of life, mood, and incidence of adverse events.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (last searched January 2013), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2012, Issue 12: searched January 2013), MEDLINE (1966 to January 2013), EMBASE (1980 to January 2013), CINAHL (1982 to January 2013), SPORTDiscus (1949 to January 2013), and five additional databases (January 2013). We also searched ongoing trials registers, handsearched relevant journals and conference proceedings, screened reference lists, and contacted experts in the field.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised trials comparing either cardiorespiratory training or resistance training, or both, with no intervention, a non-exercise intervention, or usual care in stroke survivors.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently selected trials, assessed quality, and extracted data. We analysed data using random-effects meta-analyses. Diverse outcome measures limited the intended analyses.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 45 trials, involving 2188 participants, which comprised cardiorespiratory (22 trials, 995 participants), resistance (eight trials, 275 participants), and mixed training interventions (15 trials, 918 participants). Nine deaths occurred before the end of the intervention and a further seven at the end of follow-up. No dependence data were reported. Diverse outcome measures made data pooling difficult. Global indices of disability show a tendency to improve after cardiorespiratory training (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.37, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.10 to 0.64; P = 0.007); benefits at follow-up and after mixed training were unclear. There were insufficient data to assess the effects of resistance training.

Cardiorespiratory training involving walking improved maximum walking speed (mean difference (MD) 7.37 metres per minute, 95% CI 3.70 to 11.03), preferred gait speed (MD 4.63 metres per minute, 95% CI 1.84 to 7.43), walking capacity (MD 26.99 metres per six minutes, 95% CI 9.13 to 44.84), and Berg Balance scores (MD 3.14, 95% CI 0.56 to 5.73) at the end of the intervention. Mixed training, involving walking, increased preferred walking speed (MD 4.54 metres per minute, 95% CI 0.95 to 8.14), walking capacity (MD 41.60 metres per six minutes, 95% CI 25.25 to 57.95), and also pooled balance scores but the evidence is weaker (SMD 0.26 95% CI 0.04 to, 0.49). Some mobility benefits also persisted at the end of follow-up. The variability and trial quality hampered the assessment of the reliability and generalisability of the observed results.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The effects of training on death and dependence after stroke are unclear. Cardiorespiratory training reduces disability after stroke and this may be mediated by improved mobility and balance. There is sufficient evidence to incorporate cardiorespiratory and mixed training, involving walking, within post-stroke rehabilitation programs to improve the speed and tolerance of walking; improvement in balance may also occur. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of resistance training. Further well-designed trials are needed to determine the optimal content of the exercise prescription and identify long-term benefits.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD003316
Number of pages334
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Physical Fitness
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Resistance Training
  • Stroke
  • Walking


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