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stroke survivor fitness stories


We asked stroke survivors to tell us their stories about what worked for them as they began exercising after their strokes. Here are some of the stories.

PAT HORAN Not all traumatic brain injuries are the result of stroke. Pat is a veteran who was a Captain in the US Army who was shot in the head on July 7, 2007.

EDNA had a hemorrhagic stroke due caused by AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in 2007. It had a major impact on her vision.

Here is her exercise experience:
“If you passed me on the street or chatted with me for an hour or two, you would never know I'm a stroke survivor. Nonetheless, the vision issue has negatively affected my ability to exercise. In particular, I cannot run (nor can I drive). In addition, core exercises that involve a lot of movement (situps and pushups) are also beyond me.

One form of exercise that I have found great for my posture/alignment is Floor Barre. It adapts the exercises typically done by dancers at the barre by having the person exercising lie on the floor (thereby taking away the need for balance) and then do the various barre positions. I take the class at Maryland Youth Ballet. To my knowledge, I am the only member of the class with a brain injury. ”

CHARLES had a stroke at age 58. He had been a runner, but shortly before his stroke, he had stopped being as active as he had been in the past. After the stroke, he had a baseline of exercise awareness that guided him back to activity.

Charles worked with a personal trainer for some time. He goes to a gym and is able to use the weight machines. He also takes walks around his neighborhood.

He recommends:
• Knowing your limitations and always having someone with you when you exercise.
• The Bosu ball as a useful tool for balance.

JULIA FOX GARRISON is a stroke survivor, motivational speaker, healthcare advocate and bestselling author of Don't Leave Me This Way.

Here is Julia’s story in her own words:
I joined a YMCA for several years and used the facilities daily. I am always exploring more ways to stay in motion. I do wear an AFO brace but it helps to walk with more purpose. I walk regularly in my neighborhood. I wear a 10lb weighted vest because I can't walk fast and want to increase my exertion. Last year I joined Get In Shape for Women (GISFW). I like the idea of getting help with weight training—it is groups of 4 that you work with a skilled trainer for 30 minutes that are customized for each person, then you do 30 minutes of cardio fitness. I go three days a week and supplement the other days with Planet Fitness which is one of the cheapest gyms—I wait for the special which is $99 for the year—can't beat that!

Any type of exercise in a pool is the best. I find when I am particularly aching, treading water in a pool loosens the joints. I kept a basket next to my chair with children's toys to help improve dexterity.

My hand still doesn't work very well, but I'm never giving up on it! Squeezing a ball that is spongy can help. Using different latex bands to improve stretching and strength is good too. I have a stability ball that I sit on to improve core strength and balance.

It is important to keep strength so I would recommend working with weights (safely and with a spotter) and progressively increase the weight as it gets easier. Any movement is good. Dancing is fun and can be done in a wheelchair too!

Don't forget exercise is not just for the body—it is for the mind too. It will help boost the immune system. (I) play cribbage every night with my husband. At first I was very slow in counting my hand but over time, I have improved. Find stimulating games to play that will work new pathways in the brain.

Make sure to exercise the funny bone too—laughter is a great stress reliever, good for the heart and mind and is best when shared! The most important component to exercise is to find a way to do the things you love doing!
Learn more about Julia Fox Garrison

RUSSELL uses every means possible to exercise and get stronger. He has a personal trainer, a wide variety of at-home exercise equipment and attends stroke survivor peer group exercise classes.

He recommends:
• Having your personal trainer go with you to see your physical therapist to learn the best ways to help you.

Here is his list of favorite equipment:
– Treadmill - Having one at home makes it easier to use on a regular basis, but do it with your physical therapist first before trying it on your own.
Nustep Recumbent Stairmaster with leg brace to hold up your weak leg. He suggests finding a facility that has one, as they are expensive.
– Ballet bar or railing for squats, push ups, or hula or change–the–light bulb exercise
– Massage table for sit-to-stand, bridging, stretching and other range of motion exercises
– Hand weights
– Dyna band to hold legs together in range of motion exercises
– Timer – for timing repetitive exercises
– Kitchen counter – for leaning forward to do back exercises
– Stretch tubes for arm exercises
– Stairs for step–up, calf stretch

PEG did not have a stroke but has worked to recover from knee replacement surgery.

This is her recommendation:
I’ve noticed that the lack of mobility is really depressing. For those people who either can’t afford a scooter or want to take a more active role in their recovery, an adult trike may be the answer.

The trike I have has seven gears, so the difficulty of pedaling can be adjusted to the rate of recovery. The lower two gears put no strain on the knees.

I have the Kent Bayside trike. There are many more less expensive options to be found but my understanding is that the Bayside is the best made of them and I don’t know if any of the others have a selection of gears.

I recently had a “hill topper” installed on my trike. It allows me to go up steep hills and to cope with rough terrain. My battery has a ten mile range, so I’ve been going 8 miles every day just to be on the safe side. I’m going to wait a year and replace the battery with one that has a 30 mile range so that I can go further.

I think that kind of progression would be encouraging to many stroke survivors.

You can help other stroke survivors and their families. Tell us your fitness story.