Regular physical activity as an effective prophylactic method against a stroke

Active seniorsScientists from the Department of Primary Care and Population Health in London report that regular physical activity significantly decreases the risk of a stroke in elderly people. Results of the research were published in Stroke magazine.

A stroke is defined as sudden neurological deficit caused by ischemia of the central nervous system or by hemorrhage. It is currently the fourth most frequent cause of death in Poland after heart attacks, cancers and injuries. It is also the main cause of permanent disability. Annually, this affliction concerns about 70 000 Polish people. The risk increases with age. Strokes occur mainly in elderly people (average age is about 70). Early mortality (up to 28 day since symptoms appeared) ranges from18-45% and is higher in women. In turn, higher incidence and overall mortality is observed in men.

Primary prevention of a stroke is for people who did not experience any form of ischemia in the area of the central nervous system but are at risk because of risk factors occurring in them. Those people are recommended to change their lifestyle: do physical exercises regularly, quit smoking, avoid excessive alcohol intake and lose weight. Important is also treatment of arterial hypertension, abnormal carbohydrate metabolism and lipid disorders. In patients with atrial fibrillation it is necessary to introduce appropriate antithrombotic prevention and patients with carotid stenosis should be subjected to surgical treatment.

Everyday physical activity is one of the most important recommendations in stroke prevention. However, it is not clear how much and in what form the activity is the most beneficial for elderly people. British scientists try to answer these questions is their latest research.

Research involved 3435 men aged 60-80 in whom no afflictions of cardiovascular system were observed in the form of coronary disease or heart failure.

In the time of 2 years the scientists registered how many hours per week the participants devote to physical activity. They considered what types of sports are preferred by the participants, how intense do they train and also how many kilometers do they cover every day. The scientists took into account also forms of activity such as working in the garden. They divided participants into 5 groups depending on the degree of physical activity: 0-3, 4-7, 8-14, 15-21 and over 22 hours a week, and then observed them for 11 years.

During this time 195 strokes were reported (6,7%). In studied group, in which activity was assessed as low, the percentage of stroke occurrence was 7,9 and was higher by 1/3 than in the group in which physical activity was high (5,6).

The most frequently chosen form of activity among the examined was a walk. Men walked 7 hours a week on average. The scientists observed that with higher number of hours devoted to a walk peripheral heart rate and D-dimers level decrease and forced expiratory volume in 1 second increases.

In comparison with men walking for 0-3 hours a week, men who were physically active over 22 hours a week had 65% lower risk of stroke occurrence (2,7/8,0%). Examined men who walked for 4-7 hours per week (0,5-1 hour a day) decreased the risk of a stroke by about 11% and those who walked 1-2 hours a day by 30%. It clearly shows correlation: the more time participants were active, the lower was the risk of a stroke. Pace of a walk had no influence on the risk.

The scientists conclude that elderly people who have an active lifestyle are at minimal risk of stroke occurrence. Therefore, regular physical activity should become an important part of stroke prevention strategy in those people.

Written by: Anna Szajerska, Karolina Gasińska, Łukasz Kurasiewicz

1.Jefferis B., Whincup P., Papacosta O., et. al. Protective Effect of Time Spent Walking on Risk of Stroke in Older Men. Stroke. 2014; 45: 194-199, doi: 10.1161/​STROKEAHA.113.002246.
3.Błaszczyk B., Czarnecki R., Prędota-Panecka H.; Primary and secondary stroke prevention. Studia Medyczne. 2008. 9. s. 71-75.
4.Banecka-Majkutewicz Z., Dobkowska M., Wichowicz H. Risk factors in ischemic stroke. Ann. Acad. Med. Gedan. 2005. 35. s. 207 – 216.
5.Kozubski W., Liberski P. Neurologia. PZWL. 2011. s. 424-425.

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