Yoga Helps Stroke Survivors Regain Balance

By Chelsea Whyte on July 29, 2012 11:35 PM EDT

yoga
A little yoga can go a long way toward restoring balance in stroke survivors. (Photo: Creative Commons: lululemon at)

Yoga can improve fitness and reduce stress, and new studies show it can be a used as a rehabilitation treatment for stroke survivors who are no longer under the care of doctors.

"For chronic stroke patients, even if they remain disabled, natural recovery and acute rehabilitation therapy typically ends after six months, or maybe a year," said lead researcher Arlene Schmid, a rehabilitation research scientist at Roudebush Veterans Administration-Medical Center and Indiana University, Department of Occupational Therapy.

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Improvements after the six-month window can take longer to occur, she said, "but we know for a fact that the brain still can change. The problem is the healthcare system is not necessarily willing to pay for that change."

In a study of 47 stroke survivors, about three-quarters of whom were male veterans, participants were divided into three groups assigned different exercise regimes: twice-weekly group yoga for eight weeks; a "yoga-plus" group, which met twice weekly and had a relaxation recording to use at least three times a week; and a usual medical care group that did no rehabilitation.

The study found that even patients with significant paralysis following stroke were able to do modified yoga poses, reports Time. Registered yoga therapists taught the classes, which included modified yoga postures, relaxation, and meditation and grew more challenging each week.

After eight weeks, the stroke survivors who did yoga or yoga-plus significantly improved their balance on tests of standing, standing with their eyes closed, standing with their feet together and turning around 360 degrees, compared with patients in the usual-care group.

Those in the yoga groups also reported better independence and quality of life and were less afraid of falling.

After a person suffers a stroke, balance problems frequently last long after the stroke and can lead to a higher risk of falls and greater disability, researchers said. Adding yoga to post-rehabilitation treatment can help avoid those problems.

The researchers said yoga may be more therapeutic than traditional exercise because the combination of postures, breathing and meditation may produce different effects than simple exercise, according to The Daily Mail.

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