Exercise to Reduce Stroke Risk

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.

For more information, read the article “Exercise Can Reduce Stroke Risk” or download the study from the journal Stroke. And to learn more about preventing stroke, click here.

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  • Mary G

    I am a stroke survivor. Although exercise may reduce some strokes, there are many factors that can cause them. Although I was brought up on a low fat, low sugar diet and was very active, and never smoked, this apparently was not enough to overcome my family history of strokes. My grandmother (who had pernicious anemia) had one at age 90 and survived 3 months. My mother had several small TIA’s in her 60’s,but recovered and was able to drive until she was 88 and is now 98. Her brother had the same condition and lived to be 87. I was 57 when I had a lacunar stroke that wiped out my fine motor skills. The only thing my doctor could find wrong was I had undiagnosed diabetes and elevated blood pressure due to extreme stress. I am doing well now, but I am always on my guard for symptoms of a stroke as there are no guarantees of prevention based on lifestyle, diet, or exercise….just a reduction in the risk. The “takeaway” here is everyone should still follow a proper diet, exercise appropriately for their age and condition, and don’t smoke, etc…and lEARN THE SIGNS OF A STROKE to reduce the chance of disabilities and/or death.