A news release from the American Heart Association reports that exercise on a motorized stationary bike appears to benefit stroke patients, offering an advantage in relearning everyday tasks and improved motor function of the arms.

According to Susan Linder, PT, DPT, NCS, researchers theorize that intense aerobic exercise would “prime” the central nervous system to exploit the motor learning effects of task practice.

During the small study, which encompassed 17 stroke survivors (aged 23 to 84 years old), researchers assessed what type of exercise might assist stroke patients in relearning everyday tasks and regaining upper arm strength.

The release adds that stroke had occurred 6 to 12 months prior to study enrollment. All patients participated in upper-extremity repetitive task practice to help regain arm use, such as relearning how to hold a cup or fork or relearning how to dress themselves as well as improve their quality of life.

Additionally, patients were assigned to one of three groups. The first of these groups forced exercise using a motorized stationary bike, the second voluntary cycling on a stationary bike without a motor, and the third no aerobic exercise training at all but twice as much repetitive practice time.

The release notes that all cycling sessions were 45 minutes long, and were followed immediately by the upper-extremity repetitive task practice intervention. In total, participants completed a total of 24 exercise sessions during a 8-week period.

Study results suggest patients who exercised on the motorized stationary bike prior to their repetitive task practice session experienced a 34% improvement in their motor skills compared to a 16% improvement among those who cycled on their own and 17% for those who doubled up on repetitive task practices but did not receive aerobic exercise training on the bicycle. Additionally, improvements were noted in self-reported quality of life and depressive symptoms across all three groups, with trends reportedly favoring the motorized cycling group.

An advantage of the motorized bike, the release adds, is its ability to help patients with limited mobility to pedal and achieve and maintain the intensity of training thought to be necessary to have an impact on brain function. It is important to note that the cycling is not passive; participants must contribute to the activity in order to exercise within their target heart rate range, Linder says.

While the study was not intended to measure patients’ cardiovascular outcomes, it has been consistently reported that that aerobic exercise improves blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood flow.

“Not only are we improving motor recovery with half the amount of task practice, but we’re also improving cardiovascular health, and stroke patients often have cardiovascular co-morbidities. If we can improve motor recovery and cardiovascular health simultaneously, patients can regain lost motor function and improve their quality of life,” Linder emphasizes.

[Source: American Heart Association]