Some of the treadmill walkers achieved major improvement despite coming into the study needing a wheelchair or walker to get around, and brain scans revealed positive brain changes following six months of such exercise, the researchers said.
"I think it's one of the better pieces of news in a while -- in a long while -- for the stroke survivor," Dr. Daniel Hanley, a neurology professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore who helped lead the study, said in a telephone interview.
Stroke survivors can be left with paralysis or loss of muscle movement. A stroke can impair a person's gait, reducing one's mobility and fitness and promoting chronic disability.
Stroke most commonly occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is stopped or greatly reduced, depriving it of oxygen.
The study involved 71 patients, average age 63, who had a stroke an average of about four years earlier. About half were selected to walk on a treadmill for 40 minutes three times a week for six months, while the rest did stretching exercises for the same amount of time instead of the treadmill.