DEAR JIM: My wife of 51 years recently suffered a stroke earlier this year that has left her paralyzed on one side. She has otherwise recovered pretty well but, because of her paralysis, she has a tendency to lose her balance when she walks. I’m afraid she might fall and injure herself so is there any kind of exercise she can do to improve her balance? ANXIOUS IN ANAHEIM
DEAR ANXIOUS: There are many different forms of exercise that your wife might do to improve her balance. Many readers know I have been particularly partial to Tai Chi over the years. My good friend Henry Cheng of the Tai Chi Wellness Center in San Diego has worked with many older and disabled adults with remarkable results.
However, according to the American Heart Association journal Stroke, a small pilot study at Roudebush Veterans Administration-Medical Center and Indiana University, Department of Occupational Therapy in Indianapolis, IND, found that Yoga might also help to restore balance for stroke patients.
“For people with chronic stroke, something like yoga in a group environment is cost effective and appears to improve motor function and balance,” said Arlene Schmid, Ph.D., O.T.R., lead researcher and a rehabilitation research scientist
Researchers involved in the study believe that Yoga may be more therapeutic than traditional exercise because the combination of postures, breathing and meditation may produce different effects than simple exercise.
The classes were taught by a registered yoga therapist – not just a yoga instructor or practitioner – and included modified yoga postures, relaxation, and meditation, progressing in difficulty each week.
The results? Compared with patients in the usual-care group, those who completed yoga or yoga-plus significantly improved their balance.
“Improvements after the six-month window can take longer to occur,” added Schmid, “but we know for a fact that the brain still can change. The problem is the healthcare system is not necessarily willing to pay for that change.” For that reason alone, Yoga might be a viable alternative when traditional healthcare becomes no longer affordable.
Researchers also found that patients developed a more positive attitude about their disability by participating in Yoga. They talked about things like walking through a grocery store instead of using an assistive scooter, being able to take a shower, and feeling inspired to visit friends.
Recovering from a stroke is largely about regaining independence, and Yoga might help your wife to improve her balance and rebuild her self-confidence. You might even want to join in the classes with her.
Jim Evans is a 45-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and internationally recognized fitness consultant. He is a member of the Visionary Board of the International Council for Active Aging (ICAA).