How an Aerobic Workout May Help To Improve Neurological Rehabilitation

Aerobic exercise has been studied extensively for its physical, mental, and cognitive health benefits. Of interest is how often physical therapists may prescribe an aerobic exercise regimen for their clients with neurological disorders. The utilization of aerobic exercise is not well documented, and the frequency of prescription of aerobic exercise regimens is of interest. In this blog post, we discuss the utilization of aerobic exercise in adult neurological rehabilitation by physical therapists in Canada.

How Often Do Physical Therapists Use Aerobic Exercise As Part of Treatment?

Researchers designed a 29 question survey. The survey contained 10 questions regarding details of the physical therapist themselves, 4 screening questions, 8 questions regarding the prescription of aerobic exercise, and 7 questions about the implementation of aerobic exercise in treatment protocols. The survey took about 17-20 minutes to complete and was distributed online using an online survey tool. The survey was done by 176 physical therapists across Canada.

A majority of respondents came from the Ontario province of Canada, were female, had a bachelor’s degree, practiced for 16 years, and spent 76-100% of their time practicing neurological rehabilitation. Out of the respondents, 76% of respondents who worked with stroke patients prescribed an aerobic exercise regimen. Physical therapists who worked with stroke patients were the highest group to prescribe aerobic exercise as part of a patient’s rehabilitation plan. Following stroke, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, Guillain-barre syndrome, cerebral palsy, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis were among the conditions of which physical therapists treated and prescribed aerobic exercise regimens. 

Survey results demonstrated that 77% of physical therapists prescribed aerobic exercise as part of their client’s neurorehabilitation plan, 70% of physical therapists prescribe aerobic exercise for a client’s that they deem it is appropriate for, and 88% of physical therapists agreed that aerobic exercise should be incorporated into treatment programs of patients with neurological disorders. Physical therapists also reported that common barriers to implementing aerobic exercise included concerns of patient cardiac status, cognitive & perceptual deficits, and lack of resources. 

Why is Aerobic Exercise Important in Neurological Rehabilitation?

Aerobic exercise is effective in promoting cardiovascular health and endurance. Often after experiencing a neurological injury or developing a neurological disorder, clients may not get enough physical activity needed to maintain physical health, mobility, mental, and cognitive health. Physical therapists are likely to prescribe aerobic exercise regimens as they are helpful in combating depression, fatigue, and have been shown to improve overall brain health and cognitive abilities. Methods that physical therapists and patients may use to get aerobic exercise include using a stationary bike, treadmill, Stairmaster, stairclimber, elliptical machine, arm ergometer, rowing machine, circuit training, and swimming. 


Physical therapists agree and frequently prescribe aerobic exercise for their clients undergoing neurological rehabilitation. Common neurological conditions for which patients seek physical therapy treatment include stroke, multiple sclerosis, and traumatic brain injury. Across different neurological conditions, physical therapists may prescribe an aerobic exercise program depending on a client’s physical and cognitive health. Physical therapists prescribe aerobic exercise as part of a client’s neurorehabilitation plan, as aerobic exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular health and endurance, mobility, physical health, mental health, and cognitive well-being. Aerobic exercise is also helpful in helping clients combat fatigue and depression. Other therapists working with clients that have neurological disorders may want to help their clients become more active and identify activities that are enjoyable for them that provide an outlet for the client to perform aerobic exercise. 

Doyle, Lindsay MScPT; MacKay-Lyons, Marilyn PT, PhD Utilization of Aerobic Exercise in Adult Neurological Rehabilitation by Physical Therapists in Canada, Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy: March 2013 – Volume 37 – Issue 1 – p 20-26 doi: 10.1097/NPT.0b013e318282975c
Margaret Davis

Margaret Davis is a junior studying advertising at Temple University. She is thrilled to be joining the HappyNeuron Pro team as the Content Marketing Intern. With her previous experience working on PR and Social Media campaigns, Margaret hopes to bring a variety of skills to the team.

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