Nice: Yoga Helps Stroke Survivors Get Back in Shape

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An eight-week yoga rehabilitation program led to significant improvements in strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance.

Study of the DayDmitriy Shironosov/Shutterstock

PROBLEM: Around five million stroke survivors in the U.S. live with lingering physical impairments, including reduced functional strength, flexibility, and endurance. These "chronic stroke" symptoms alter patients' lifestyles by making them less mobile and independent.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers led by Arlene Schmid enrolled older veterans recovering from stroke in an adapted yoga program. These men and women had completed their post-stroke occupational and physical therapy before the study commenced but continued to have stroke-related injuries. Over an eight-week period, the researchers measured their hip flexion strength, ability to perform arm curls, aerobic endurance during a six-minute walk, speed at standing from a seated position, and range of motion.

RESULTS: The veterans who were practicing yoga experienced gains in functional strength, flexibility, and endurance. A related study that focused on the participants' gaits showed improved balance as well as faster and longer strides. Schmid explains in her report that yoga might have "improved neuromuscular control, likely allowing for strength improvements in affected limbs, sides or areas of disuse."

CONCLUSION: Yoga improves post-stroke patients' balance, flexibility, gait, strength, and endurance.

IMPLICATION: The authors note that yoga should be considered for post-stroke in-patient or out-patient rehabilitation and should be taught by a yoga therapist who has had training in anatomy, physiology, and working with people with disabilities.

SOURCE: The full study, "Physical Improvements After Yoga for People With Chronic Stroke," was recently presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in San Francisco.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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