Improved processing speed and decreased functional connectivity in individuals with chronic stroke after paired exercise and motor training

Justin W. Andrushko, Shie Rinat, Brian Greeley, Beverley C. Larssen, Christina B. Jones, Cristina Rubino, Ronan Denyer, Jennifer K. Ferris, Kristin L. Campbell, Jason L. Neva, Lara A. Boyd*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


After stroke, impaired motor performance is linked to an increased demand for cognitive resources. Aerobic exercise improves cognitive function in neurologically intact populations and may be effective in altering cognitive function post-stroke. We sought to determine if high-intensity aerobic exercise paired with motor training in individuals with chronic stroke alters cognitive-motor function and functional connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a key region for cognitive-motor processes, and the sensorimotor network. Twenty-five participants with chronic stroke were randomly assigned to exercise (n = 14; 66 ± 11 years; 4 females), or control (n = 11; 68 ± 8 years; 2 females) groups. Both groups performed 5-days of paretic upper limb motor training after either high-intensity aerobic exercise (3 intervals of 3 min each, total exercise duration of 23-min) or watching a documentary (control). Resting-state fMRI, and trail making test part A (TMT-A) and B were recorded pre- and post-intervention. Both groups showed implicit motor sequence learning (p < 0.001); there was no added benefit of exercise for implicit motor sequence learning (p = 0.738). The exercise group experienced greater overall cognitive-motor improvements measured with the TMT-A. Regardless of group, the changes in task score, and dwell time during TMT-A were correlated with a decrease in DLPFC-sensorimotor network functional connectivity (task score: p = 0.025; dwell time: p = 0.043), which is thought to reflect a reduction in the cognitive demand and increased automaticity. Aerobic exercise may improve cognitive-motor processing speed post-stroke.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13652
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2023
Externally publishedYes

Cite this