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Exercise Rehabilitation for Neurological and Neuromuscular Conditions

Exercise rehabilitation can be an effective component of the treatment of Neurological and Neuromuscular Conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, Stroke and Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease.



It is estimated that there are up to 60,000 stroke survivors in New Zealand. Stroke survivors are often de-conditioned and predisposed to a sedentary lifestyle. This can adversely impact on activities of daily living, increase the risk of falls and may contribute to a heightened risk for recurrent stroke and other health conditions. (1)

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease affects 1% of the population aged over 65 years old. (5)

  • The motor (gait impairments, postural instability, falls) and the non-motor (depression, apathy, fatigue, sleep disturbances, cognitive decline) features of Parkinson’s can lead to worsening of symptoms and greater levels of disability.
  • Exercise programmes may be an effective strategy to delay or reverse functional decline for people with Parkinson’s. There is a large body of evidence to support exercise as being beneficial with regards to activities of daily living, quality of life, strength, balance and gait speed. (6)

Dementia (Alzheimer’s Disease)

In 2014, it was estimated that 53,000 people had dementia. It is thought that by 2050, more than 147,000 people (2.6% of the population) will have dementia, almost triple the current number! (8)

  • The most common form of dementia among older adults, Alzheimer’s Disease, is a degenerative brain disease that results in progressive mental deterioration with disorientation, memory disturbance and confusion. Symptoms such as these can interfere with the ability to perform activities of daily living, ultimately affecting a persons quality of life.
  • Alzheimer’s is linked with physical deterioration and reduced muscle mass, resulting in higher risks of falls and fractures, decline in mobility and further loss of independence. (9)


Benefits of Exercise for Stroke Survivors

Fitness is often particularly low in stroke survivors which may limit their ability to perform everyday activities and also worsen stroke-related disability. (2)

Current evidence recommends that stroke survivors be involved in regular aerobic and strength exercise to:

  • Improve aerobic fitness (3)
  • Reduce risk of recurrent stroke and further cardiovascular disease (2)
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Improve quality of life
  • Improve balance and coordination (2)
  • Improve muscular strength on the affected side (4)

Benefits of Exercise for Parkinson’s Disease

  • Improved underlying impairments
  • Improved economy of walking
  • Enhanced function
  • Reduced disability in persons with early and mid-stage Parkinson’s
  • Improved in gait, balance and disability
  • Improved fitness

Benefits of Exercise for Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Enhanced function when performing activities of daily living
  • Fewer neuropsychiatric disturbances such as irritability and depression
  • Improved depressive symptoms
  • Improved cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Improved functional capacity components – flexibility, agility, balance, strength (9)
  • Improved cognitive aspects such as sustained attention, visual memory and decision making function

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1. Stroke Foundation, 2016. http://www.stroke.org.nz/stroke-facts-and-fallacies. 2. Billinger, 2014. Physical Activity and exercise recommendations for Stroke survivors: a statement for Healthcare Professionals from the American Heart Association. 3. Globas, 2012. Chronic stroke survivors benefit from high-intensity aerobic treadmill exercise: a randomized control trial. 4. Weiss, 2000. High intensity strength training improves strength and functional performance after stroke. 5. Lees, 2010. The bare essentials: Parkinson’s disease. 6. Goodwin, 2008. The effectiveness of exercise interventions for people with Parkinson’s disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. 7. Rosenthal, 2013. The benefits of exercise in Parkinsons disease. 8. Alzheimers New Zealand, 2012. http://www.alzheimers.org.nz/news-info/nz-information/dementia-economic-report-2012. 9. de Souto Barreto, 2015. Exercise training for managing behavioral and psychological symptoms in people with dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis.