Walk to work and cut the risk of a stroke

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and now a new study from Finland is the first to find that an increase in physical activity during leisure time or commuting lowers the risk of any kind of stroke.

Lead investigator Gang Hu, Ph.D., a senior researcher in the Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion at the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland, has found an association between leisure-time physical activity and the risk of any stroke, ischemic stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage, or intracerebral hemorrhage.

The Finnish researchers reviewed data on 47,721 fellow countrymen aged 25 to 64 years with no history of coronary heart disease, stroke or cancer.

The participants completed questionnaires on smoking habits, alcohol consumption, socioeconomic factors, medical history, and physical activities during their leisure time, at work and while commuting.

The team found that during an average follow up of 19 years, 2,863 strokes occurred.

According to Hu, the strengths of the study were its large sample size and it's recording of the largest number of strokes during its follow up.

Self-reported leisure-time physical activities were classified in three ways:

  • Low: almost completely inactive activities such as reading or watching TV;
  • Moderate: physical activity for more than four hours a week, such as walking, cycling, light gardening, but excluding travel to work;
  • High: vigorous physical activity for more than three hours a week, such as running, swimming or heavy gardening.

Hazard ratios for stroke, which indicate risk, were estimated for the different levels of leisure-time physical activities as well as occupational and commuting physical activities.

The researchers then adjusted for factors such as age, gender, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, education, smoking, alcohol consumption and diabetes.

They found that participants who described their leisure-time physical activity as moderate had a 14 percent lower risk of suffering any type of stroke than those whose activity level was low.

Participants who reported high leisure-time physical activity had a 26 percent lower risk of all stroke than those who had a low physical activity level.

As a result Hu recommends daily walking or cycling to and from work for all people.

He says that the increased computerization and mechanization of daily life has resulted in ever-increasing numbers of people being sedentary for most of their working time, recommends short time exercise during working breaks or adding walking activity during work time.

The study is published in the American Heart Association.

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