Getting active after stroke
Exercise is great for your physical health and mental wellbeing, practicing a regular routine will also help prevent risk of another stroke.
Why move more?
After a stroke, starting to be more active can be a massive boost to your recovery and your confidence.
Almost anyone can find a way to add movement into their daily life. You can be active in your home, and you don’t need to do sports or join a gym.
Being more active can:
- Help you to stay healthy and feel good.
- Reduce the chance of another stroke.
- Improve your balance and muscle strength.
- Reduce fatigue and lessen pain.
- Improve your mood.
- Build up stamina.
If you’re not sure which activities are safe for you because of a disability or a health condition, ask your GP or therapist for advice.
Physiotherapists and occupational therapists can help you work out new ways of doing things. Whether your stroke was recent or many years ago, moving more can make a difference to your wellbeing.
Find what works for you
It’s different for everyone. The impact of your stroke is unique to you, and you will have your own reasons for wanting to get active. You’ll set your own goals and find your own motivation.
If you have difficulty walking, getting moving might be one of your main goals after a stroke. You might want to start doing more things independently, like shopping or travelling.
Some effects of stroke could make it harder to be active, like balance problems, shoulder pain, bladder problems or fatigue. But with support, you can find out what you can do. You’ll find things you enjoy. Whatever your individual abilities are, you can try increasing your current level of activity. Even a small amount extra will make a difference.
Being active in daily life
You don’t have to go to a gym: you can find some great ways to be active in everyday life. These activities aim to make your heart beat faster and make you feel warmer. If you do something more energetic or for longer you might feel a little out of breath but still be able to speak.
Tip: You don’t have to carry on for a long time. A short burst of activity several times a day can have the same benefit as a longer session. This could mean two minutes, five minutes or 10 minutes at a time – have a go, and see what’s right for you.
- Time yourself doing the vacuuming, and then beat your time another day. Put some music on while you’re dusting to get you moving around the room.
- Gardening tasks like weeding, digging and planting can build strength, and improve skills using hands and fingers.
- Walking is a great way to get moving. You can walk in your home, or outdoors. Build up the distance at your own pace and it’s something you can do with a friend or a dog. You can add walking into your day by getting off the bus early, or walking to the shops instead of driving. The NHS ‘Active 10’ app tracks all your walking on your phone, and helps you set goals. Visit nhs.uk/better-health/get-active.
- Climbing up stairs is a great way of getting your heart working, as well as strengthening muscles. When you are out, try taking the stairs instead of a lift. Go up and down stairs in your home a few times, or do stepups on the bottom step.
- You can use a resistance band for developing strength in arms and legs. Ask a fitness instructor or physiotherapist for exercises you can do, or look on YouTube for videos.
Tip: If you want to push yourself a bit more, try to fit an extra activity into your day. Or you can do an activity for longer, or speed up and do it more quickly.
Moving more at home
These are some ideas for movements to try at home.
Remember: Every stroke is different, so you might not be able to do all of these movements. Only do activities that are safe for you.
If you’re not sure, ask your therapist or GP for advice.
On a bed
- Lying down with your knees bent, keep your feet and knees together and roll your knees slowly from side to side.
- Lying down, bend and straighten your legs in front of you along the bed.
In a chair
- March your feet. You can do this while watching TV or reading.
- Seated gardening activities like planting a seed tray, making a hanging basket or weeding a raised bed.
- Sit to stand: start looking straight ahead with feet slightly apart. Stand up slowly, then sit down slowly. Why not do it in a break between TV programmes?
- Single leg lifts: lift one leg, keeping it straight. Lower it slowly. Repeat with the other leg.
- Marching on the spot.
- Knee lift: with a bent leg, raise the knee up in front of you. Lower it slowly. Repeat on the other leg. Stand next to a chair and hold on to it for balance if you need to. You can also do this while seated.
- Wall ‘press-up’: face the wall, and take a small step back. Put your hands flat against the wall at shoulder height, fingers pointing up. Bend your elbows and lean towards the wall, keeping your body straight and feet flat on the ground. Push back gently to standing.
How can I be active if I have...
Practical tips for dealing with some of the effects of a stroke if you want to be more active.
Being active is known to be great for emotional wellbeing. But if you’re experiencing anxiety or low mood, it can be hard to get started with something new. So have a look at our tips for getting motivated in this guide. If you’re struggling with low mood or anxiety, ask your GP for help. For more information visit stroke.org.uk/emotional-changes.
If your eyes are very sensitive to light, wear sunglasses or a baseball cap to shade your eyes. If you have low vision or perceptual problems, good indoor lighting and a tidy, uncluttered space can help. If you are in a group activity, the instructor can support you by giving extra verbal descriptions and pointing out obstacles. They can provide some equipment like balls or bats in bright colours. You could do outdoor activities like walking or running alongside a friend. For more information visit stroke.org.uk/vision-problems.
If you are worried about leaking urine (wee) or faeces (poo) while you’re moving around, there are some practical things you can do.
Some kinds of exercise are more likely to cause leaks, such as high impact sports like netball and running. This can happen even for people who don’t normally have incontinence. Lower impact activities that might avoid leaks include walking, chair-based exercises, swimming and cycling.
You can still do your fitness activity, but go prepared. Use pads if you need to. Take a change of clothes, and washing kit. You could wear dark clothes to hide small leaks.
Drink water regularly to stay hydrated, which can help reduce urgency. Use the toilet just before you start.
Pelvic floor muscle exercises can help reduce leaks. They work for men as well as women. You need to do them regularly to build up muscle strength.
Get some more help and advice: your pharmacist can advise on products you can use. A GP can give advice or refer you to a specialist nurse. For more information visit stroke.org.uk/continence-problems.
Weakness down one side and spasticity
A stroke can cause weakness or paralysis in arms and legs. It can also lead to very stiff muscles, or spasticity. You can still be active, but do things at your own pace, using smaller movements you can manage. Relax or stretch if you need to. Using your unaffected side too much can sometimes lead to problems with the affected side. So get advice from a therapist if you need to.
You can still be active even if your balance is a problem. A therapist or trained exercise coach should be able to give you advice on safe movements and how to improve your balance. You can do activities on a chair or a mat, or use machines if you go to a gym. If you are standing, hold onto a chair back or lean against a wall. Ask your GP to refer you for advice if you need some help with balance problems.
You might feel too tired to be active, but regular exercise can actually help give you more energy and better sleep. Try a few different activities, and find out what you enjoy and what works for you. Start slowly, and build up over time, to avoid making the fatigue worse. Overall energy levels should improve, but you might need to build in time for some extra rests during and after activities.
I’m worried that...
Some of the common concerns and fears people have about becoming more active.
I might have another stroke
Sometimes people worry that being active could cause another stroke. But the opposite is true. Moving and being active is a great way to stay healthy and avoid another stroke. So unless your doctor tells you otherwise, moving and being active is safe, and it could make all the difference to your health and wellbeing.
I might get injured
As long as you do things that you are capable of, you can move and be more active. Don’t avoid being active because you’re worried. If you have any health problems such as atrial fibrillation or diabetes, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP before starting to become more active.
If you are not sure what you can do, look for some advice from a professional like a therapist or trained exercise coach. An occupational therapist can help you find new ways of doing things.
My blood pressure will go up
If you have high blood pressure, physical activity can help to reduce it over time. When you do something that makes your heart beat faster, such as running, your blood pressure goes up, but goes back down when you rest. By exercising regularly, you actually make the heart stronger and more efficient. Over time your resting blood pressure can go down to a healthier level.
Important: However, if you have very high blood pressure you should speak to your doctor before starting to be more active, to make sure it’s safe for you. Ask your pharmacist if your medication could affect you during exercise.
I have several health problems
If you have a number of health problems together like diabetes and a heart condition, and you’re not sure what level of activity you can do, speak to your GP or stroke nurse.
Stroke Specific Exercise Video Programme
We partnered up with charity A Stroke of Luck to create a series of 12 exercise videos you can do from the comfort of your own home. The stroke-specific exercise video programme caters to all levels of mobility, however, it is important that you watch the introduction video first, to understand how the programme can meet your needs.
You’ll need to decide which group is best for you:
Red group is for those who have limited mobility.
Amber group is for those with some mobility.
Green group is for people who are independently mobile.
You can follow the 12-week Stroke Specific Exercise Video Programme from our blog, or you can watch them from the My Stroke Guide YouTube channel where we host lots of other content about recovering and living life after stroke.
We also have a 4-week Stroke Recovery Exercise Programme that you can follow.
If you'd like to read more about getting active after your stroke, download the PDF below.
- Download Getting active after a stroke (PDF)
- Download Physiotherapy after stroke (PDF)
- Download Physical effects of stroke (PDF)
- Download Occupational therapy after stroke (PDF)
- Download Leisure activities after stroke (PDF)
Where to get help and information from the Stroke Association
Call us on 0303 3033 100,from a textphone 1800 0303 3033 100
Our Helpline offers information and support for anyone affected by stroke, including family, friends and carers.
Read our information
Call the Helpline to ask for printed copies of our guides.
Other sources of help and information
Age UK Advice
Phone: 0800 169 65 65
Age UK produces a number of resources, such as books and DVDs, which can be ordered online or from their advice line.
Phone: 0300 123 4567
They provide practical ideas and tips aimed at getting the whole family to move more, eat well and live longer.
Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) Guides
Phone: 020 7306 6666
CSP produces a variety of guides including ‘The easy exercise guide’ – a leaflet explaining how you can do easy, effective exercise as part of your daily routine.
Phone: 0845 130 7172
This national charity for younger stroke survivors of working age runs exercise classes around the UK.
Doing Sport Differently
Phone: 0207 250 3222
A guide to exercise and fitness for people living with a disability or health condition, produced by Radar. The disability rights people. You can download it for free from the website or it costs £3.99 if you order a hard copy (including postage and packing).
Videos: Available here
GRASP is an arm and hand exercise program for people with stroke. You can access the videos and instructions on the University of British Columbia's website. You should always speak with your GP and / or Physiotherapist before starting a new exercise programme.
Later Life Training
Phone: 01567 820 477
They provide exercise training for health and leisure professionals working with older people. They also offer leaflets, books and DVDs about exercise. You can search for qualified instructors in your local area on their website.
LEGS (Local Exercise Groups for stroke and neurological conditions)
Nationwide charity providing affordable, online and face to face, physiotherapist-led exercise and peer support groups for people with neurological conditions, including stroke. Specialist support, individually tailored for long term improvement.
Love activity, hate exercise
Great ideas for moving, being active and having fun.
They provide lots of information about being active, including exercise guidelines and a number of 10 minute home workout programmes. You can also download workout plan podcasts.
Parasport activity finder
Look for inclusive sports and activities near you.
Ramblers Wellbeing Walks (formerly Walking for Health (WfH))
Phone: 020 7339 8541
Walking for Health encourages people to become physically active in their local community. They can provide details of walks in your local area as well as offering information, support and encouragement.
TCV - Green Gym
Phone: 01302 388 883
The national environmental conservation charity TCV runs a scheme to enable you to get active and help the environment at the same time.
This Girl Can
How you can feel more confident about your body by moving and being active. The advice is for anyone of any gender.
A website that helps you to plan your walking route within towns and cities around the UK.
We are undefeatable
Inspiring stories and practical resources to help you be more active when you have a health condition or
Apps from MyTherappy
App recommendations from the NHS for survivors and carers ranging from communication, eating and drinking, healthy lifestyle, vision and more.
Phone: 01509 227750
The lead organisation for disabled people in sport throughout England. They have a list of gyms that have been approved as accessible and have highly trained gym staff who are experts in providing advice on adapted physical activity.
A website providing useful information about cycling for leisure or as part of your commute to work.
A website developed by NHS Health Scotland to support healthcare professionals and patients. You can search on their website for activities and groups in your area.
Paths for All
Phone: 01259 218 888
An organisation promoting walking and improving your health in Scotland. Within the Get Walking section of their website, you can search for health walks in your region.
Phone: 0845 045 0904
Sports Wales is responsible for developing and promoting sport and active lifestyles. Find out about activities in your community and search for activities by type and location.
Health Challenge Wales
Phone: 02920 825 793
They provide information and advice to help improve your health and well-being.
Disability Sports NI
Phone: 028 9038 7062
Northern Ireland’s main disability sports organisation. Provides information on a range of sports including events, clubs and courses for people with disabilities.
Sport Northern Ireland
Phone: 028 9038 1222
The lead agency for the development of sport in Northern Ireland, dedicated to developing people in sport, and providing facilities for people of all abilities.
Get a Life Get Active
This website provides information about how you and your family can incorporate more physical activity into your everyday lives.
Disclaimer: The Stroke Association provides the details of other organisations and apps for information only. Inclusion on My Stroke Guide does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement.