recovering from a stroke Neuroscience

The Road to Stroke Recovery: Nutrition and Exercise

Nutrition and exercise after a stroke are two ways stroke survivors can move forward in their recovery and prevent future strokes.

Many stroke survivors experience physical weakness, numbness and stiffness. Every survivor’s recovery looks different, depending on which part of the brain was damaged. A rehabilitation plan created specifically for you by your medical team is one of the keys to unlocking your future and recovery. 

Reach Your Daily Rehabilitation Exercise Goals 

Strokes affect different parts of the brain, which results in different physical symptoms in each individual survivor. Some survivors experience balance issues, others their ability to move. Your rehabilitation team will design a recovery program specific for your needs. Here are exercise tips to remember on your road to recovery:

  • When exercising according to your rehabilitation program, have a caregiver nearby to watch for your safety. The caregiver can also help you remember the exercise sequence.
  • Some stroke survivors lose the ability to read. Assistance from a family member or friend can help guide the survivor through their rehabilitation plan. It’s important to remember, the company of a family or friend can help the survivor to feel less alone in their recovery.
  • Plan your rehabilitation exercises for times during the day when you feel awake and alert. Invite a different family or friend over each day to motivate and assist you in your exercises. 

The Foundations of Nutrition

The second key to a healthy future is nutrition. After a stroke, up to 34% of survivors don’t receive adequate vitamins and minerals, and commonly suffer from malnutrition. For many, a barrier to good nutrition is the physical inability to chew food. Here are some diet tips and foods to look out for at the grocery to boost your nutrition:

  • Plan three meals a day. A full nutritious meal will give you energy for the day’s rehabilitation exercises.
  • Limit saturated and trans fats. Instead, reach for fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week.
  • Prepare food with minimal sodium.
  • Limit drinks with added sugar.

Overcoming Eating Challenges

Did you know that normal swallowing requires 25 different muscles and five nerves? Many of these are inhibited after a stroke. For example, over 50% of stroke survivors have difficulty swallowing. These challenges make it difficult to eat healthy. Most survivors recover quickly from these symptoms with the assistance from their rehabilitation team and speech pathologist. While you recover, here are some ways to achieve good nutrition: 

  • Look for pre-washed, pre-cut fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. Some nutritious options include:
    • Apple slices or puree
    • Yogurt (low-fat)
    • Mixed vegetables
    • Salad greens and spinach
    • Pre-cut watermelon, cantaloupe
    • In-season berries
    • Incorporate soft foods into meals that are easy to swallow and high in vitamins and nutrients such as:
      • Mashed vegetables
      • Eggs
      • Cottage cheese
      • Applesauce
      • Canned fruits
      • Soup
      • Ask family members to help prepare healthy nutritious meals that you can freeze and eat on days when you are too tired to cook.
      • Use flatware with large handles that are easy to grip and hold.
      • Rubber placemats underneath a plate can prevent the plate from sliding.
      • Nutritional drinks such as Ensure® can be used to supplement your diet if you’re not able to get nutrition from food. 

Finally, take charge of your stroke recovery! Reach out to your doctor and ask, “Where am I on my stroke recovery journey?”

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