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Back To Vidyya The Results Are In

Exercise And Stroke Risk

Exercise has long been associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease. However, the results of research into activity and risk of stroke have been inconsistent. Now, 8 years of follow-up on thousands of women indicates that the risk of all strokes and those caused by blockages of an artery supplying the brain (ischemic) decreased significantly as the women's activity levels increased.

Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues studied a total of 72,488 female nurses ages 40 to 65 who took part in the Nurses' Health Study. The nurses, who did not have any diagnosed cardiovascular disease or cancer at baseline, completed detailed physical activity questionnaires in 1986, 1988 and 1992.

Between 1986 and 1994, 407 new strokes occurred in this group. The authors found that after controlling for age, body mass index (BMI), tobacco and alcohol use, hypertension, and other factors, the risk of total stroke decreased significantly with increasing physical activity. Walking was associated with reduced risk of total stroke, according to the study published in the June 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, the researchers found that a brisk or striding walking pace was associated with lower risk of ischemic stroke as well as total stroke compared with average or casual pace walking.

Current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health recommend that Americans should accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most -- preferably all -- days of the week. The authors add that the benefits of low- and moderate-intensity activities (such as walking), compared with vigorous exercise, in the prevention of cardiovascular disease remains controversial. Dr. Hu and colleagues speculate that the protective effect of physical activity may be partly mediated through its effect on various risk factors for stroke. "Physical activity lowers blood pressure and increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the 'good' cholesterol) concentration," the authors say. The researchers also note that physical activity facilitates weight loss and weight maintenance.

The study found that even women in the study who were sedentary and didn't become active until later adulthood had lower stroke risk than their counterparts who remained sedentary. "This implies a relatively prompt effect of physical activity -- older adults can enjoy the benefit of exercise even if they were sedentary for a long time," the researchers say. The study concludes that the findings lend further support for current government guidelines that promote regular, moderate-intensity physical activity for the prevention of chronic diseases.


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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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