I am 43. A massive stroke nine years ago has left me overweight with poor co-ordination and balance, and emotional stress. I have tried exercise classes without success: the only exercise I do is walk the dog. I really want someone who can guide and support me back to fitness.
Living with the long-term effects of a health catastrophe such as stroke turns every day into a challenge. The kind of damage that stroke can do to the brain leaves people with a very wide range of difficulties to tackle – not just physical, but also affecting for instance sight, perception, touch and emotional responses.
But it is important that you make the effort to exercise: physical activity is one of the best ways for stroke survivors to combat their increased risk of having a second stroke, diabetes or heart disease.
To protect your heart and blood vessels, the best exercise is moderate aerobic activity such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming. What’s really important is that you do five “cardio” sessions a week, at 30 minutes a time. Which means building it into your daily lifestyle.
Poor co-ordination and balance are very common after stroke – and put you at increased risk of falling over. Specific balance training may help. And you should aim to stay strong – low-level weight training is recommended. If you are able to get into an exercise routine with all these elements, you will also find it much easier to lose the extra weight.
But how to get motivated? The answer depends on your personality, preferences and means. If you can afford it, you would probably benefit greatly from employing a personal fitness trainer. This is a big financial commitment as it might take two sessions a week for three months until you feel you are on the right track and enjoying your new activity habit.
If you do opt for a personal trainer, check their qualifications carefully: A REPS Level 3 certificate is essential, plus an additional qualification to teach people with major conditions (eg: gym for disabled people or GP Referral).
Alternatively ask your GP to recommend you for a local exercise referral scheme. This would also provide expert advice and support at a local gym for those first difficult weeks.
There are other options though,. How about finding a “buddy” or workout partner who can encourage you and keep your resolve strong? This doesn’t need to be an expert – you would do your learning together, which can also be fun.
Have a look at Different Strokes, a national support group for younger stroke survivors. They have a network of local groups. Sportability is a charity that offers supported sports opportunities in some unusual and adventurous activities such as diving, canoeing and abseiling – this is one way you could discover a fantastic new hobby while you are getting fitter. PHAB is another charity with supported activities and local clubs, so again you may find both a person and a passion that will set you on the road to fitness.