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5 Easy Steps to Accessing Recreation After a Stroke

Emerging research continues to strongly support the vital role of recreation participation and recreation therapy to improve functional independence for people who have experienced a stroke. Physical activities contribute to recovery and rehabilitation by offering the feelings of an enriched quality of life, increased self-esteem, reduced stress, and improved health. Participation in recreational activities can also deter feelings of depression common among stroke survivors. 

Discovering or getting back into the swing of recreational pursuits can be easier said than done for some people experiencing the new realities of life after stroke.  Fortunately, there are many resources available and as close as the local parks and recreation department.

1. Check out the recreation program guide. 

The local parks and recreation department offers a wide variety of activities, from gardening to golf lessons, from star gazing and nature walks to scuba adventures.  Many recreation departments publish a seasonal program guide of offerings or list programs on their web site.  Programs may range from single events to several weeks. Programs customized to small groups and individuals may also be available.  The local parks and recreation department is a great place to explore a variety of interests before diving fully into a new leisure pursuit or sport. 

The program fees are usually minimal in order to promote active living in the community.  For example, if you think you might have an interest in kayaking, it would be much more affordable to take an introductory paddling class through the parks department where all the equipment is provided.

2. Resume hobbies or try something new. 

While stroke rehabilitation can be physically and emotionally challenging, it can also be viewed as an opportunity to get back into favorite hobbies or to discover new interests through recreation. Someone that may have detested viewing golf on TV in the past, might soon learn its physiological and neurological benefits—communicating from brain to limbs—setting up the ball, preparing her stance, reviewing her position, pulling back for the swing, the thrill of contact and then the follow-through.  This process, like so many other recreational activities, will task the stroke survivor to message from brain to body part.  The repetition through practice also strengthens muscles.

3. Make friends with the recreation therapist or inclusion specialist. 

It is considered a professional best practice for a municipal parks and recreation department to employ a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) or inclusion specialist.  Many hospitals and rehab centers also have recreation therapists on staff.  They can be a great asset to people recovering from stroke. 

These professionals are responsible for assisting people with disabilities to fully participate in recreation programs.  This may be done by conducting individualized assessments and setting up modifications to facilitate successful participation.  The CTRS or inclusion specialist can also help to identify adaptive equipment to support the functional limitations of the program participant who has experienced a stroke.

4. Plan your visit.

For individuals with mobility impairments, who use canes, crutches, walkers or wheelchairs, it is important to plan the recreation outing in advance.  Visit the venue web site and call the program coordinator in advance to find out if the facility is wheelchair accessible and/or if there are long distances to walk, stairs, or steep inclines between program spaces.  Are there benches/chairs with armrests and back supports?  Are the restrooms accessible with grab bars?  Are auxiliary aids and services provided such as assistive listening systems or captions?  Planning conducted in advance of the visit can translate to a more successful experience once on-site.

5. Know your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Individuals experiencing a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, and public accommodations.  Recreation providers covered by the law are required to modify policies, practices and procedures to enable people with disabilities to participate in and enjoy the benefits of the programs, goods, services and activities.   

Pursuing recreation and physical activity is one of the greatest gifts you can schedule for yourself each day post-stroke.  A recreational activity for just 30-60 minutes a day can boost the immune system, strengthen muscle tone, relieve anxiety, improve a positive mood and spur mental engagement.  Most importantly, recreation can help individuals feel a greater sense of life satisfaction and better health.

By: Jennifer K. Skulski, Director of Marketing and Special Projects at the National Center on Accessibility, Visit website

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"Physical activities contribute to recovery and rehabilitation by offering the feelings of an enriched quality of life, increased self-esteem, reduced stress, and improved health."

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