Engaging in light to moderate physical activity, such as walking or swimming, for a few hours a week, was associated with less severe strokes when compared with physical inactivity, according to findings published in Neurology.
“Stroke is a major cause of serious disability, so finding ways to prevent stroke or reduce the disability caused by stroke are important,” Katharina S. Sunnerhagen, MD, PhD, from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, said in a press release.
Sunnerhagen and colleagues reviewed data from two Swedish stroke registries to investigate how prestroke physical activity affects stroke severity. A total of 925 individuals (average age: 73.1 years; 45.2% women) who had a stroke were included in the analysis.
The researchers determined stroke severity based on symptoms, including eye, arm and facial movements, level of consciousness and language skills using the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS). Most participants (80%) indicated signs of mild stroke, or an NIHSS score of 0 to 5.
Engaging in light to moderate physical activity, such as walking or swimming, for a few hours a week, was associated with less severe strokes when compared with physical inactivity.
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After the stroke, participants were interviewed on how much they moved or exercised before the stroke. The average amount of physical activity was determined based on participants’ answers about the duration and intensity of exercise. Relatives confirmed exercise levels if necessary. The researchers defined light physical activity as walking for at least 4 hours a week and moderate physical activity as more intense exercise such as swimming, brisk walking or running for 2 to 3 hours a week.
The researchers used the Saltin-Grimby’s 4-level Physical Activity Level Scale to determine physical activity levels. Approximately half (52%) of participants reported being physically inactive before their stroke.
Data showed that individuals who engaged in light to moderate physical activity before their stroke were two times more likely to have mild symptoms rather than moderate or severe symptoms, compared with those who were physically inactive.
More participants who engaged in light physical activity had a mild stroke rather than a moderate or severe stroke than those who were physically inactive (85% vs. 73%). Additionally, 89% of participants who engaged in moderate physical activity had a mild stroke, indicating that light and moderate physical activity benefited stroke severity similarly.
Participants who were physically inactive had a higher risk for increased stroke severity.
The researchers noted that the difference in stroke severity was not largely accounted for by the difference in physical activity. Greater physical activity combined with younger age accounted for 6.8% of the difference in severity.
“While exercise benefits health in many ways, our research suggests that even simply getting in a small amount of physical activity each week may have a big impact later by possibly reducing the severity of a stroke,” Sunnerhagen said in the release.
“There is a growing body of evidence that physical activity may have a protective effect on the brain and our research adds to that evidence,” she added. “Further research is needed to better understand just how physical activity influences the severity of a stroke. Finally, physical inactivity should be monitored as a possible risk factor for severe stroke.” – by Alaina Tedesco
The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.