Reduce Your Stroke Risk With Exercise: Address Controllable Risk Factors

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Riding a bike is a great way to get exercise since its easy on the joints; however, make sure you wear a helmet! Photo by the National Cancer Institute.

Riding a bike is a great way to get exercise, since it’s easy on the joints. Just make sure you wear a helmet! Photo by the National Cancer Institute.

Need another reason to exercise? Well, a new study has found that exercising can reduce your risk of having a stroke.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States; killing almost 130,000 Americans every year, that’s 1 in 19 deaths!

More than 795,000 people have a stroke every year, which costs the United States $38.6 billion in medical care, medications, and missed days of work, every single year.

So what can you do to prevent a stroke? One study recommends exercise.

Exercise to Beat Stroke Risk

Michelle N. McDonnell, Ph.D., from the University of South Australia, Adelaide and her colleagues examined data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study.

REGARDS is a large, long-term study that  looks at the reasons for the higher rates of stroke mortality among African-Americans and other residents living in the Southeastern United States.

Over 30,000 people agreed to participate in the study. Participants gave their medical history over the phone to researchers, then the researchers went to their homes and collected data like the person’s body mass index and blood pressure. Researchers also asked participants how many times a week they exercised hard enough to break a sweat.

The researchers then contacted the participants every six months to find out whether they had a stroke or a mini stroke, known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and confirmed their answers by reviewing their medical records.

The researchers reported data on over 27,000 participants who were stroke-free at the start of the study and were followed for an average of 5.7 years. Researchers found that participants who exercised less than once a week were 20 percent more likely to have a stroke or a TIA compared to participants who exercised four or more times a week. So what makes this different than other studies? Virginia Howard, Ph.D., senior author of the study from the School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham tells NIH,

“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 generalizable results than other studies”

Th study did find a small decrease in stroke for participants who exercised at least once a week compared to those who didn’t exercise at all. This study shows the importance of exercise and should encourage doctors to encourage their patients to participate in exercise at least once a week, but optimally, four times a week or more.

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