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Insights into stroke research on breakfast menu

While Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s song ‘From little things big things grow’ is a protest message about equality and land rights, that six-word title could almost be the mantra of researcher Dr Coralie English, who wants people to stand up post-stroke to improve health outcomes.

For the past three years Coralie, Associate Professor with the School of Health Sciences at The University of Newcastle and Senior Research Fellow at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and her team have been investigating the effects of physical activity, aerobic exercise and sedentary behaviours in people after stroke. Her mission is to prove that taking some small steps today will lead to more tomorrow and improved physiological health and wellbeing in patients recovering from a stroke, thereby reducing the risk of a reoccurrence. She will share insights into her research at next month’s annual Victorian Branch Winter Breakfast.

‘Physical activity is important for secondary stroke prevention and quality of life, but there are issues with trying to implement physical activity programs in this group of patients, so I will talk about those, as well as the novel contribution to sedentary behaviour that is separate but related to it,’ the keynote speaker says.

The experienced physiotherapy clinician worked for many years in stroke and neurological rehabilitation before moving into a career in research. She holds a National Heart Foundation Future Leaders Fellowship and is a Senior Research Affiliate with the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Stroke Rehabilitation and Brain Recovery.

‘I started work as a clinician and found stroke rehabilitation to be my passion,’ she says. ‘My research career started with looking at different models of rehabilitation service delivery and then I got more interested in the sedentary behaviour part of the spectrum.’

Coralie’s early work focused on methods of increasing therapy time and active task practice for stroke survivors receiving in-hospital rehabilitation, including the use of circuit class therapy and seven-day therapy services. Today, her research team, heralded as the first group to have investigated the acute cardiometabolic benefits of breaking up prolonged sitting time in stroke, is focusing on understanding the optimal dose of both physical activity and sitting time reduction for stroke survivors.

The research is vital to the health profession, with statistics of stroke in Australia immense: one in six people are expected to suffer a stroke in their lifetime and, of the 420,000 Australians currently living with stroke-related disability, more than 40 per cent will suffer a recurrent stroke.

‘Stroke does occur at any age … and a lack of adequate physical activity is the second-highest risk factor for stroke,’ Coralie says. ‘However, there are many barriers that prevent these patients in achieving adequate levels of physical activity. Behaviours, such as reducing prolonged sitting time, may be a more achievable target.’

The group’s research has shown that stroke survivors are more sedentary than their age-matched peers, spending about 75 per cent of their waking hours sitting, the majority of that in prolonged bouts. But the group is also reporting that it is possible to reduce the sitting time in this population.

'People after stroke find it so hard to engage in physical activity in terms of regular structured exercise,’ Coralie says. ‘Evidence shows that only about 15 per cent of healthy adults meet the full physical activity guidelines and we have no excuses, so anybody with any movement disability or cognitive disability, however mild, finds it very difficult. There is no question that it is the most potent form of reducing risk and it’s important we find ways to support people to do physical activity.

‘In the meantime, it is possible that even breaking up sitting time with short bursts of activity could confer some important health benefits. We can then start with people doing a little bit and then build up to more.’

As well as reporting on the optimal dose of both physical activity and sitting time reduction for stroke survivors, Coralie is also keen to highlight innovative models of providing exercise therapy through telehealth.

Marina Williams

APA Victorian Branch Winter Breakfast
Friday 20 July 2018, 6.30 – 9.00am
Caulfield Racecourse
For further information and to register,
visit physiotherapy.asn.au/events
or phone Jason Smith on 03 9092 0882.

 

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