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Exercise may protect against 'silent stroke'

June 09, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Older adults whose exercise routine includes moderate or heavy activities such as swimming or jogging might be at lower risk of suffering a "silent stroke" than light- or non-exercisers, a new study suggests.
Older adults whose exercise routine includes moderate or heavy activities… (Robert Lachman / Los Angeles…)

Exercise is the activity that just keeps on giving. A new study suggests that older adults who regularly break a sweat might be less likely to have a “silent stroke” than non-exercisers. 

Strokes can cause brain damage by cutting off blood flow to the brain. But unlike major strokes, recognizable by symptoms such as weakness on one side of the body and trouble speaking, so-called silent strokes by definition go unnoticed. Symptoms can include subtle memory and mobility problems, as well as an increased risk for future strokes, according to the American Academy of Neurology.

Silent strokes are also different from mini-strokes, which are noticeable but last only for minutes or hours.

In a new study by Columbia University and the University of Miami, researchers asked 1,238 people who hadn’t experienced a stroke about their level of physical activity. The response: 43% weren’t regularly active, 36% did light exercise such as walking or golfing and 21% engaged in moderate to heavy exercise such as jogging, biking and swimming.

When researchers looked at MRI scans performed several years later for signs of silent stroke — when the participants were on average 70 years old — they found that the moderate-to-heavy exercisers were 40% less likely to have suffered a silent stroke than the non-exercisers. The results were published online Wednesday in the journal Neurology.


The researchers found no difference between light and no exercisers in the odds of having a silent stroke. But please, please, don’t stop the light exercise, the authors write in the discussion:

“It is important to note that light-intensity physical activity is likely to have protective effects against multiple other conditions associated with aging and our findings should not discourage individuals from performing even light intensity activities.” 

After all, rarely is more exercise a bad idea. The American Stroke Assn. has this to say about being sedentary and strokes:

“Being inactive, obese or both can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke."

healthkey@tribune.com

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