Content » Vol 48, Issue 10

Original report

High- and low-intensity exercise do not improve cognitive function after stroke: A randomized controlled trial

Ada Tang, Janice J. Eng, Andrei V. Krassioukov, Teresa S.M. Tsang, Teresa Liu-Ambrose
School of Rehabilitation Science, McMaster University, L8S 1C7 Hamilton, Canada. E-mail:

DOI: 10.2340/16501977-2163


Objective: To determine the effects of high versus low-intensity exercise on cognitive function following stroke.
Design: Secondary analysis from a randomized controlled trial with blinded assessors.
Subjects: 50–80 years old, living in the community, > 1 year post-stroke.
Methods: Participants were randomized into a high-intensity Aerobic Exercise or low-intensity non-aerobic Balance/Flexibility program. Both programs were 6 months long, with 3 60-min sessions/week. Verbal item and working memory, selective attention and conflict resolution, set shifting were assessed before and after the program.
Results: Forty-seven participants completed the study (22/25 in Aerobic Exercise group, 25/25 in Balance/Flexibility group). There was an improvement in verbal item memory in both groups (time effect p = 0.04), and no between-group differences in improvement in the other outcomes (p > 0.27). There was no association between pre-exercise cognitive function and post-exercise improvement.
Conclusions: In contrast to a small body of previous research suggesting positive benefits of exercise on cognition post-stroke, the current study found that 6 months of high or low intensity exercise was not effective in improving cognitive function, specifically executive functions. Further research in this area is warranted to establish the effectiveness of post-stroke exercise programs on cognition, and examine the mechanisms that underlie these changes.

Lay Abstract


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