Regular exercise reduces stroke risk

Regular, moderately vigorous exercise that causes an individual to sweat may reduce the risk of stroke, according to recent study results published in Stroke.

Researchers obtained data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, as well as the medical history of more than 30,000 participants. Health measures, such as body mass index and blood pressure, were also obtained. Participants were asked at the beginning of the study how many times per week they exercise vigorously enough to work up a sweat. Every 6 months, the researchers followed up to see if any participants experienced a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Researchers found that one-third of participants reported exercising less than once a week. Those who were inactive were 20% more likely to experience a stroke or TIA than participants who exercised four or more times a week, according to study results. Regular, moderately vigorous exercise lowered the rates of known stroke risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and smoking.

After accounting for age, race, socioeconomic factors and stroke risk factors, study results showed that men who exercised at least four times a week still had a lower risk of stroke vs. men who exercised one to three times per week. A similar reduction was found in stroke risk for women who exercised one to three times a week and four or more times a week compared with those who were inactive.

“Our results confirm other research findings but our study has the distinct advantage of including larger numbers, especially larger numbers of women as well as blacks, in a national population sample so these provide somewhat more generalized results than other studies,” Virginia Howard, PhD, from the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, stated in a press release. “Physical inactivity is a major modifiable risk factor for stroke. This should be emphasized in routine physician check-ups along with general education about the benefits of exercise on stroke risk factors including high blood pressure, diabetes and being overweight or obese.”

For more information:

McDonnell MN. Stroke. 2013;doi:10.1161/strokeaha.113.001538.

Disclosure: The researchers were supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia Fellowship.

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