Content » Vol 52, Issue 1

Original report

Sex differences in the effects of exercise on cognition post-stroke: Secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial

Shereen Khattab, Janice J. Eng, Teresa Liu-Ambrose, Julie Richardson, Joy MacDermid, Ada Tang
School of Rehabilitation Science, McMaster University, Canada
DOI: 10.2340/16501977-2615


Objective: To determine whether there are differences in exercise-associated changes in cognitive func-tion between males and females living with stroke.
Design: Secondary analysis of data from a prospective assessor-blinded randomized controlled trial.
Participants: Fifty participants (50–80 years, > 1 year post-stroke, able to walk ≥ 5 m).
Methods: Participants were allocated into a 6-month aerobic exercise programme (14 males, 11 females) or balance and flexibility programme (15 males, 10 females). Working memory (Verbal Digit Span Backwards Test), selective attention and conflict resolution (Stroop Colour-Word Test), and set shifting/cognitive flexibility (Trail-Making Test B) were assessed before and after the programmes.
Results: There was a group × time interaction in females (effect size 0.28, p = 0.03), which was not observed in males (effect size 0.01, p = 0.62). Females demonstrated a Stroop Colour-Word Interference test change of –2.3 s, whereas males demonstrated a change of +5.5 s following aerobic exercise. There were no differences between exercise groups in either sex for any of the other outcomes (working memory and set-shifting/cognitive flexibility).
Conclusion: Females living with stroke may demonstrate a greater response to exercise on selective attention and conflict resolution compared with males with stroke. These findings suggest that there may be sex-specific effects of exercise on cognitive func-tion in individuals with stroke.

Lay Abstract

Exercise can improve thinking and memory in people with stroke, but we do not know if men and women improve to the same degree. This study examined whether there were differences in thinking and memory between men and women with stroke after 6 months of aerobic or balance/flexibility exercise. Volunteers were randomly assigned to a 6-month aerobic exercise programme or a balance/flexibility exercise programme. Thinking and memory skills were tested before and after the exercise programme. Women did better then men on a test of attention and problem-solving after exercise. There were no differences between men and women in any other test. These findings show that exercise may be better for improving attention and problem-solving in women living with stroke than in men.


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