High-Intensity Interval Training Improves Motor Skill Retention in Individuals with Stroke

After experiencing a stroke or other brain injury, individuals may experience a range of behavioral, cognitive, and physical impairments. Fortunately, the brain’s neuroplasticity – its ability to repair itself from neurological damage – may improve recovery rates after injury. Current research suggests that motor skill recovery in particular may benefit from early interventions aimed to promote neuroplasticity, and clinicians are still learning how to increase the effectiveness of these post-stroke treatment courses.

A recent Canadian study sought to discover if bouts of aerobic exercise like high intensity interval training (HIIT) can promote neuroplastic changes and improve motor function in patients who have experienced stroke. Twenty-two participants with varying levels of physical impairment practiced a motor task; half of them completed 15 minutes of HIIT on an exercise step machine, while the non-exercise control group did not. Twenty-four hours later, researchers assessed their motor skill retention by completing the same motor task. The researchers found that participants who completed HIIT had more balanced levels of an amino acid that promotes neuroplastic changes. Furthermore, the participants who exercised after practicing the motor task showed higher motor skill retention than their counterparts.

Intervention-based treatment plans may be necessary for individuals who experience physical impairments after stroke or traumatic brain injury. Importantly, even a single bout of high-intensity aerobic exercise, performed after motor practice tasks, can improve patients’ skill retention. HIIT is a promising method for accelerating post-stroke recovery, and patients may benefit from incorporating aerobic exercise into their treatment plans.

Nepveu J, Thiel A, Tang A, et al. A single bout of high-intensity interval training improves motor skill retention in individuals with stroke. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair. (September 2017).

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