A stroke occurs when a part of the brain does not receive enough blood and oxygen. The symptoms can vary depending on the size of the area and the location in the brain. It can cause minor changes or can lead to severe disability and death. A transient ischemic attack ( TIA) is similar to a stroke but is temporary. TIAs should be considered warning signs of a stroke. Risks for stroke include high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, and sedentary behavior. Healthy dietary choices and regular physical activity have been shown to decrease the risk.
Researchers from Germany conducted a study to determine if physical activity at any time in life could decrease the risk of stroke. The study, published in Stroke, found that physical activity in adulthood has beneficial effects.
The case-control study reviewed the records of 370 patients that had a stroke or TIA. They were compared to a control group of 370 people of similar sex and age from the same population. Both groups were asked about current and previous sport activities. The researchers found that:
The researchers accounted for other factors that are linked to a higher risk of stroke such as vascular risks and education. Even after these risk factors were accounted for, recent activity appeared to be a significant factor.
Physical activity can help keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, which in turn can significantly reduce your risk of stroke. A case-control study design is the least reliable design because it can allow biases that may change the validity of the results. Physical activity is already known to be safe and effective. This study emphasizes that physical activity needs to be continued throughout life, or if you are not currently active, you can benefit from beginning physical activity.
Talk to your doctor about beginning an exercise program, especially if you have any heart conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease or if you have had a previous stroke or TIA. Begin gradually. Add small bits of activity to your day such as taking stairs instead of elevators or walking instead of taking the car on small trips.
American Heart Association
National Stroke Association
Grau AJ, Barth C, Geletneky B, Ling P, Palm F, Lichy C, et al. Association between recent sports activity, sports activity in young adulthood, and stroke.Stroke. 2009 Feb;40(2):426-31. Epub 2008 Dec 24.
Last reviewed March 2009 by Larissa J. Lucas, MD