Regular physical activity can decrease the risk of having a stroke, according to a large new study from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death among people with diabetes.
According to the National Stroke Association, controllable risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, atherosclerosis, circulation problems, tobacco use and smoking, high cholesterol, alcohol use, diabetes, obesity, and physical inactivity. Uncontrollable risk factors include age, gender, race, family history, previous stroke or transient ischemic attack, fibromuscular dysplasia, and hole in the heart.
To determine the association between physical activity and incidence of stroke, researchers looked at data from 27,000 black and white participants, age 45 and older, in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study. Using self-reported physical activity levels, the subjects were designated as inactive (no workouts in a week), moderately active (workouts one to three times a week), or vigorously active (workouts four or more times a week). They were then followed for an average of 5.7 years.
The researchers found that physical inactivity, which was reported by 33% of the respondents, was associated with a 20% increased risk of stroke. Among men, those who exercised four or more times a week had a decreased risk of stroke, while among women, the link between stroke risk and frequency of physical activity was not as clear.
According to senior study author Virginia Howard, PhD, “[These findings] should be emphasized more in routine physician checkups, along with general education on the proven health benefits of regular physical activity on other stroke risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.”
Limitations of the study include that it relied on self-reported exercise data, which may not be accurate, and that the researchers did not have data on the type or duration of the exercises in which the subjects engaged. Future studies should consider capturing more information on physical activity through use of devices such as heart monitors and through further questioning, as well as aim to collect data on aspects of exercise such as frequency and duration, the researchers note.