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A new study shows that light physical activity such as walking or doing household chores can help lower stroke risk. T Westend61/Getty Images
  • A new study shows that regular leisure time physical activity can help lower stroke risk.
  • The benefits of even lower amounts of exercise were seen across males and females and all age groups.
  • There are many ways a person can reduce their risk of stroke through small amounts of physical activity.

To reduce stroke risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of both.

Now, a new study finds that any level of physical activity, including “leisure time physical activity (LTPA),” can reduce stroke risk.

The findings suggest engaging in leisure time physical activity well below the recommended threshold for exercise can lower stroke risk by 18% compared to engaging in no physical activity.

Exercising 150 minutes a week can cut one’s stroke risk by 29%, and a moderate level of similar physical activity can reduce it by 27%, the study shows.

The findings are published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

The study is an analysis of 15 studies involving 75,050 participants.

Since the studies were independently conducted, the analysis endeavored to find common ground between them. The mean follow-up period was 125.7 months, plus or minus 77.5 months.

In some of the studies, the outcomes for three activity levels were assessed:

  • no physical activity
  • exercise below the 150-minute target
  • satisfying the 150-minute recommendation for exercise

For these studies, the below-target levels were associated with an 18% reduction in stroke risk compared to no activity.

Other studies involved four or five levels of physical activity. Lower physical activity levels in these studies revealed a similar reduction in stroke risk compared to no activity at all.

The benefits of even lower physical activity levels were consistent across males and females and all age groups.

Despite the promising findings, the authors acknowledge a few limitations to the research.

Across the study population, a wide range of factors made drawing definitive conclusions more difficult. Among these were differing study methodologies and a range in race and ethnicity, age, balance of males and females, and the length of follow-up periods.

Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Saddleback Medical Center, not involved in the study, told Medical News Today a downside to the study “is that it involves many different definitions [of] low activity, but that could mean different things in different studies.”

Dr. Chen noted the effects of leisure time physical activity found in the study seemed significant.

He said there are many ways to meet the recommended goals for physical activity. He noted that small bouts of basic exercise spread over a week can add up.

“A 10-minute walk in the morning and a 10-minute walk in the afternoon — and that’s actually 140 minutes a week,” he said.

Dr. Chen said other examples of light physical activity include:

  • Opening the door, walking for 5 minutes in one direction, then turning around and walking home for another 5 minutes twice a day.
  • Going up and down the stairs 5 minutes a few times daily.

Dr. Jayne Morgan, a cardiologist and the executive director of Health and Community Education at the Piedmont Healthcare Corporation in Atlanta, GA, not involved in the study, told MNT the study data supports that sedentary lifestyles can be overcome, even as we age.

“As physical abilities become more limiting as we age, we do not have to ‘give up,’” she said, noting how the stroke risk reduction associated with LTPA persisted across all age ranges in the study.

Dr. Morgan said the study, “encourages everyone to do the ‘best’ level of LTPA… an approach that will pay off in terms of stroke prevention.”

She noted that lighter forms of exercise, such as walking, can be a great way to engage in leisure time physical activity. “Nearly everyone can participate in walking at some level,” she said.

Dr. Chen said that even for people who require assistance walking (i.e., with canes and walkers), making the effort to move around remains worthwhile. “Some exercise is better than no exercise,” he said.

Dr. Morgan noted the value of short bursts of exercise. She said other forms of physical activity that could benefit health might include:

  • gardening
  • vacuuming
  • mopping
  • household chores
  • playing catch
  • walking a pet

Dr. Chen said taking heart-healthy measures can help lower your stroke risk.

“Don’t smoke, manage your blood pressure, manage your cholesterol, manage your weight, manage your blood sugar,” Dr. Che said.

Dr. Morgan had additional suggestions, including drinking water.

“Water may make the blood more fluid and less thick, decreasing the risk of stroke,” she said, adding that limiting alcohol intake can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.