Background and Purpose— There is limited conclusive data on both pharmacological and holistic treatment options to improve cognition in adults after stroke. In particular, there is lacking evidence for cognitive rehabilitation in the subacute and chronic phases when cognitive impairment may be more perceptible. In this meta-analytic review, our primary objective was to determine the cognitive effects of aerobic exercise on post-stroke adults in the post-acute phases. Secondary objectives were to investigate the differential effects of aerobic exercise on sub-domains of cognitive function.
Methods— Data were extracted and filtered from electronic databases PubMed (MEDLINE), CINAHL, Embase, PsycINFO, and Scopus. Intervention effects were represented by Hedges’ g and combined into pooled effect sizes using random effects models. Heterogeneity was evaluated using the Chi-squared (Q) and I-squared statistics.
Results— Five studies met inclusion criteria, representing data from 182 participants. The primary analysis produced a positive overall effect of aerobic exercise on cognitive performance (Hedges’ g [95% confidence interval]= 0.42 [0.007–0.77]). Effects were significantly different from zero for aerobic interventions combined with other physical activity interventions (Hedges’ g [CI] =0.59 [0.26 to 0.92]), but not for aerobic interventions alone (P= 0.40). In specific subdomains, positive moderate effects were found for global cognitive function (Hedges’ g [CI] =0.79 [0.31 to 1.26]) but not for attention and processing speed (P=0.08), executive function (P= 0.84), and working memory (P=0.92).
Conclusions— We determined that aerobic exercise combined with other modes of training produced a significant positive effect on cognition in adults after stroke in the subacute and chronic phases. Our analysis supports the use of combined training as a treatment option to enhance long-term cognitive function in adults after stroke. Further research is needed to determine the efficacy of aerobic training alone.