About The Buzz: Can Exercise Lower Your Stroke Risk?

September 4, 2013

TheBUZZ Can exercise lower your stroke risk?

Regular, moderately vigorous exercise can lead to reduced risk of stroke. The protective benefits of exercise are linked to lower rates of known stroke risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and obesity.


Stroke is the third leading cause of death in this country (after heart disease and cancer) and the number one cause of disability among adults. Some risk factors for stroke can’t be changed (age, heredity, sex, race, and prior strokes or heart attacks), but other risks such as physical inactivity, obesity, and a poor diet can be reduced or controlled with lifestyle changes.

New research findings from a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded study suggest that exercise can reduce stroke risk. In this study, over 30,000 people were followed for an average of 5.7 years. The study found that participants who were inactive were 20% more likely to experience a stroke than those who exercised 4 or more times a week.

Sex differences were also found in the level of protective benefits of exercise. Men who exercised at least 4 times per week had a lower stroke risk than those who exercised 1-3 times per week. For women, exercising more often did not produce the same effect. However, women who exercised 1-3 times a week or 4 or more times a week showed a reduced stroke risk compared to other female participants who were inactive.¹


Unlike many serious diseases, it’s estimated that more than 80% of strokes are preventable with lifestyle changes involving exercise and diet. Exercise is one way to reduce stroke risk. A healthy, low-fat and low-sodium diet that’s filled with fruit and vegetables is another important weapon in stroke prevention. According to the American Stroke Association, “a diet containing 5 or more fruits and vegetables per day may reduce the risk of stroke.”²

Fruits and vegetables provide many nutrients your body needs for overall good health; in addition, most have little or no sodium and many contain potassium which helps to counteract the effect of sodium. Potassium-rich fruits and vegetables include potatoes, bananas, cooked tomatoes (juice, sauce, purée, and paste), canned beans, edamame (soy beans), lima beans, cooked spinach, raisins, prunes, and orange juice.

The Bottom Line …
To help reduce your chance of having a stroke, engage in moderately vigorous exercise (enough to break a sweat) several times a week, limit your sodium intake, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

More Info …
Too Much Salt in Your Diet Can Lead to Hypertension and Other Cardiovascular Diseases
Pick Your Way to Stroke Prevention
Fruits and Veggies Can Lower Women’s Risk of Stroke by 50%
Stroke Risk Factors (American Stroke Association)


¹ Michelle N. McDonnell, Ph.D. et al. “Physical Activity Frequency and Risk of Incident Stroke in a National U.S. Study of Blacks and Whites.” Stroke, July 18, 2013.

² “Stroke Risk Factors.” American Stroke Association, accessed August 20, 2013. View Article

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