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Sharp Health News

The best exercise for the brain after a stroke

May 2, 2018

The best exercise for the brain after a stroke

Nearly 800,000 people suffer a stroke in the U.S. every year. That’s one every 40 seconds. With greater awareness of the signs and advancements in treatment, it is possible to survive a stroke, but there can be devastating long-term effects.

Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability and reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over. That’s why rehabilitation following a stroke is so important.

Stroke affects people differently. Anger, anxiety and depression are common feelings. Some patients experience changes to their cognitive abilities. There may also be lingering physical effects. Rehabilitation is about getting back to normal, or as close to normal as possible.

A 2017 American Stroke Association study found that unemployed stroke survivors were 320 percent more likely to experience mental decline in the two years following a stroke than people who worked. They were also at greater risk for depression, brain changes, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. This research confirms the importance of mental stimulation — whether through work or other activities — as a crucial component of rehabilitation.

“Just like your body needs physical exercise to stay fit, your brain needs mental stimulation to be fit,” says Dr. Jennifer Jothen, a neurologist affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center and Sharp Coronado Hospital. “Mental stimulation can help heal the brain after it has been injured from a stroke.”

Dr. Jothen explains that returning to work can be a good thing, as it’s where a lot of mental energy is spent. However, there are a number of other ways to exercise the mind, including volunteering, reading, doing crossword puzzles, or beginning a new activity or class.

“Quite frankly, anything one can do to stimulate the mind is great,” says Dr. Jothen. “The key is getting out, getting active and getting your brain working.”

Friends and family can play an important role in this. Dr. Jothen says patients who have a good support system of family members and friends in the hospital tend to do better in their recovery. Loved ones can also watch for the signs and symptoms of depression after a stroke.

“Friends and family can fill in the gaps, motivating patients in a unique way that providers can’t,” says Dr. Jothen. “Loved ones can help provide a purpose and can literally help someone get up in the morning and start doing things.”

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Jothen about stroke for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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