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Stroke Health Center

Can Exercise Prevent Severe Stroke?

Active People Have Milder Strokes Than Couch Potatoes, Study Shows
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Oct. 20, 2008 -- The benefits of keeping active may be growing. A new international study looks at whether exercise reduces the severity of strokes.

The study looks at whether how much someone exercised before having a stroke had an impact on how severe the stroke was, and whether being active affected a person's long-term outcome.

The study was co-authored by Lars-Henrik Krarup, MD, with the Bispebjerg University Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, and analyzed data on 265 patients who had a first-time ischemic stroke (when an artery to the brain is blocked).

The average age of the stroke survivors was 68. Participants lived in China, Estonia, Poland, and Denmark and were able to walk on their own. Forty-four percent of the participants were women.

Researchers looked at how severe each person's stroke was and what the long-term outcome was. Respondents were also gauged on how much exercise and what kind of exercise they did prior to their stroke. They were asked questions about their typical physical activity during a weeklong period, such as light housework, taking walks, or working outside of the home.

The respondents were followed for two years, with four follow-up visits the first year and two follow-up visits the second year.

Researchers discovered that people who exercised the most prior to their stroke were 2 1/2 times more likely to have a milder stroke when compared to those who exercised the least. And participants who put in the most active hours were also twice as likely to experience a better long-term outcome.

In a news release, Krarup says that "exercise is one possible risk factor for stroke that can be controlled. Staying fit doesn't have to be a scheduled regimen. For the people in this study, exercise included light housework, taking a walk outside, lawn care, gardening, or participating in a sport."

The study authors note that their results help cement previous research showing that increased physical activity is associated with having milder strokes.

The findings are published in the Oct. 21 edition of the journal Neurology.

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