A study from the American Heart Association suggests that breaking a sweat during regular workouts may reduce the risk of stroke. The study, which appears in the journal Stroke, reportedly encompassed a total of 27,000 Americans, aged 45 years and older followed for an average of 5.7 years.
The results indicate that 1/3 of study participants reported being inactive, exercising less than once a week. Inactive participants exhibited a 20% higher likelihood of sustaining a stroke or mini-stroke when compared to those who exercised at moderate to vigorous intensity (or enough to break a sweat), at least four times a week. Researchers note that among male participants, only individuals who exercised at moderate or vigorous intensity four or more times a week exhibited lowered stroke risk. Among female participants, the link between stroke and frequency of activity appeared unclear.
Michelle McDonnell, PhD, study author, lecturer, the School of Health Sciences at the International Centre for Allied Health Evidence, University of South Australia, notes that the stroke-lowering benefits of physical activity are linked to its impact on other risk factors.
McDonnell adds that the unclear link between physical activity and women may be attributed to the benefits women gain with less vigorous exercise, such as walking, which was not the focus of the study. According to a recent news release, study participants were part of the Reasons for Geographic and Ethnic Differences in Stroke (REGARDS study).
The study also included self-reported data on the frequency of exercise, yet not how long individuals were physically active each day.
“We can tell you how much your stroke risk improves for each cigarette you cut out or every point you reduce your blood pressure, but we still need good studies on the amount you can reduce your risk by taking up exercise,” McDonnell explains.