Exercise to control risk factors for stroke

Exercise helps lower blood cholesterol and helps control weight and blood sugar, which are all important risk factors for stroke. Exercise can help you control other risk factors, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

A large study showed that physical activity significantly lowers your risk of stroke. The more physically active you are, the greater the reduction in risk. Moderately active people had a 20% lower risk of stroke than inactive people. Highly active people had a 34% reduction of risk.1

It is important to exercise regularly. Do activities that raise your heart rate. Try to do at least 2½ hours a week of moderate exercise.2 One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. Start slowly and gradually build up your exercise program.

Moderate activity is safe for most people, but it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. You can use your target heart rate to figure out how hard to exercise. Use this Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate?

Low-intensity exercise, if done daily, also can have some long-term health benefits and lower the risk for heart problems that may lead to stroke. Low-intensity exercises have a lower risk of injury and are recommended for people with other health problems. Some low-intensity activities are:

  • Walking.
  • Gardening and other yard work.
  • Housework.
  • Dancing.

For more information about developing a personal fitness plan, see the topic Fitness.

Citations

  1. Lee CD, et al. (2003). Physical activity and stroke risk: A meta-analysis. Stroke, 34(10): 2475–2481.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf.

Last Updated: January 8, 2009

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