Campus & Community

Walking is step in right direction for reducing stroke risk

3 min read

The more physically active women are, the greater they reduce their risk of stroke, according to a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study followed 72,488 nurses for eight years and concluded that the more a woman exercises, the lower the odds she will suffer a stroke.

“Previous research demonstrated that increased exercise may substantially reduce a person’s risk of heart disease, but the role of exercise in the prevention of stoke has been less well studied and not very conclusive,” said Frank Hu, assistant professor of nutrition and cardiovascular disease.

“Another important finding of our study is that sedentary women who become active in middle and later adulthood have lower stroke risk than those who remain sedentary,” Hu added. “This implies a relatively prompt effect of physical activity. Older people can enjoy the benefit of exercise even if they were sedentary for a long time.”

Two large Harvard studies of men also show that exercise reduces their chances of getting strokes. However, the more-is-better association has not yet been proven for men as it has now been done for women.

For both sexes, the greater the amount of physical activity, the higher the odds of avoiding heart disease and diabetes.

Federal guidelines recommend that people do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week. Such a routine, the researchers say, reduces a woman’s risk of stroke from blocked brain arteries by 30 percent.

Walking is the most popular form of physical activity, particularly among middle-aged and older people. “We know that a brisk walk for 30 minutes daily can help reduce your risk for (adult onset) diabetes, coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers,” points out Joann Manson, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Now we can add stroke to the list.

The caveat is brisk walking (at least 3 miles an hour). The jury is still out on casual walking. If walking at an average pace “is confirmed to provide the same benefits as brisk walking, running, jogging, and swimming, it will have a tremendous impact on public health because it is so easy and popular,” Hu notes

Physical activity is thought to confer its benefits by lowering blood pressure and increasing levels of protective – as opposed to harmful– cholesterol.

Details of this research and its conclusions were published in yesterday’s (June 14) issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.