Swimming: Trusted Therapy for Stroke Patients, Others

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Swimming is one of the ancient sports that is globally enjoyed and appreciated. More than that, it is an activity that comes with many health benefits, one of which is accelerated recovery for stroke patients. Experts have particularly emphasised that swimming is a good sport that physicians and other caregivers should recommend for stroke patients for better recovery.

According to the American National Stroke Association and the American National Swimming Foundation (NSPF), swimming is the most effective exercise for post-stroke patients due to its low-impact. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined two groups of stroke patients that were receiving therapy and found that water exercise was more potent in stroke recovery process.

The study, carried out by seven researchers, was titled, “Effect of Underwater Exercise on Lower-Extremity Function and Quality of Life in Post-Stroke Patients: A Pilot Controlled Clinical Trial”. The researchers conducted the study at a research facility attached to a rehabilitation hospital, to ascertain whether repeated swimming (underwater exercise) enhances the therapeutic effect of conventional therapy for post-stroke patients.

About 120 consecutive post-stroke inpatients were used as case study in the research. Patients were assigned to an experimental group and a control group. Patients in the experimental group received both repeated underwater exercise (swimming) and conventional rehabilitation therapy. While the second group received only conventional therapy.

At the end of the study, greater improvement was recorded for the patients that swam; that is, those who received both repeated underwater exercise (swimming) and conventional rehabilitation therapy. It was on this basis that the researchers recommended both conventional therapy and swimming (repeated underwater exercise) for post-stroke patients.

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Further findings

Another study, which examined stroke survivors, whose walking had been affected by some level of paralysis, found out that patients who swim (under water exercise) experienced an increase in leg strength and balance, as well as improvements in gait and overall quality of life. The findings were presented to Florida Gulf Coast University.

While speaking on the benefit of swimming to stroke patients’ recovery, Dr Jackie Nagle Zera, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Sports Studies, John Carroll University, Ohio, said, “People who have had a stroke will have a hard time with mobility in one side of the body. The buoyancy factor of water allows them a more comfortable place to start; it reduces the risk of falling.

“One positive benefit for cardio patients participating in water exercise (swimming) is the increase in hydrostatic pressure when the body is in water, which helps blood to flow back up to the heart more easily. This, in turn, reduces the amount of stress and strain put on the heart, allowing patients to make physical gains without risking cardiovascular complications.”

Additionally, a study published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, examined how stroke patients’ cardiorespiratory systems responded to exercise stress tests, both on land and water treadmills. The researchers found out that the aquatic treadmill exercise yielded better results, showing its potential for effective aerobic training in this population.

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Yet another study which investigated the cardiorespiratory responses of patients with sub-acute stroke to exercise stress tests, with aquatic and land treadmills, discovered that water exercise elicited significantly better peak cardiorespiratory responses than land exercise. The result of the study, which had the title “Peak Cardiorespiratory Responses of Patients with Sub-acute Stroke During Land and Aquatic Treadmill Exercise” was also published in the American National Library of Medicine.

Additional benefits

Experts have equally affirmed that swimming will not just improve stroke recovery process; it can also be a key to preventing the condition. Studies have shown that regular aerobic activity improves cardiovascular health; hence using a swim spa for daily exercise is a perfect way to stay fit. “Swimming can help keep your weight under control, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and keep your relaxed”, a swim spa director said.

But swimming is not just for those preventing or recovering from stroke; it actually has benefits for everyone. Dr Jabeen Begum, in a review, said swimming is one of the aerobic exercises that get the heart pumping. “During aerobic exercise, your blood pumps quickly throughout your body and your lungs take in more oxygen and one of the most important benefits of aerobic exercise is that it can increase your life expectancy,” Begum said.

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In view of these immense benefits, experts have recommended that swimming should be a part of everyone’s daily routine. Caregivers for stroke recovery patients should also start taking their patients to swimming since it has been established that swimming will enhance their recovery process.

Experts have also advised those who want to start swimming to let go of their fear. Alan Fang, a professional swimmer and a resource person with wikihow, said a lot of people put off learning how to swim because they are afraid.

However, while advising amateur swimmers and those who want to learn swimming, Fang said: “Don’t swim alone. Always go for swimming with one other person who is a strong swimmer, if not several other people. An area with a lifeguard is usually the best place to swim.

“Don’t learn swimming in moving water. If you’re learning to swim in an ocean or river, you will need to be more aware of the motion of the water. If you must learn to swim this way, try to make sure you’re with someone who knows what he or she is doing.

“Use proper safety gear, until you have enough water experience and are reasonably comfortable in the water.”

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