Daily physical activity levels linked to stroke risk

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  • A new study explores the link between different levels of daily activity and the risk of having a stroke.
  • The researchers used objective accelerometer data to conduct the study.
  • The researchers also looked at the effect of sedentary behavior on stroke risk.

A new study explores the relationship between different levels of physical activity, physical inactivity and stroke risk.

This study focuses strictly on the latter, unlike other studies that consider both heart disease and stroke.

Medical News Today spoke with study co-author and professor emeritus Virginia J. Howard, Ph.D. with the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“While they [heart disease and stroke] share some risk factors, some don’t,” explained Professor Howard.

In addition, DTM also spoke with study co-author Dr. Steven P. Hooker, Ph.D. at San Diego State University College of Health and Human Services.

“Objective measurements using an accelerometer have not been used to examine the relationship between these variables,” Dr. Hooker said. “Light-intensity physical activity was not consistently observed. Episodes of sedentary time are also a new way of looking at data in addition to overall sedentary time.

Professor Howard also noted that although it is difficult to quantify the amount and intensity of physical activity needed to prevent strokes, this study provides significant progress.

The study finds that less time spent being sedentary and more time being physically active – even at mild or moderate intensities – is associated with a reduced risk of stroke.

According to the study:

  • Moderate-to-vigorous activity produced the greatest reduction in stroke risk.
  • Even light physical activity reduced the risk of stroke.
  • Spending a lot of time being sedentary increases the risk of stroke.

The study is published in Open JAMA Network.

The activity is divided into three categories: light, moderate and vigorous. The researchers measured activity levels in METs, or “metabolic equivalents.” A MET is the amount of oxygen consumed at rest.

Light activity (two METs) understand stretching, walking slowly, strolling in a store, walking around the office, standing up, preparing food, doing the dishes, playing the piano or making the bed.

The study found that every hour spent performing light activities led to a 14% reduction in stroke risk.

Moderate activities (three to six METS) include brisk walking, doubles tennis or basketball shooting, bicycling on level ground, spear-catching sports, climbing stairs, washing windows, sweeping, mopping or vacuuming floors, slow dancing, scrubbing a tub, carrying a small child, washing your car, or gardening.

In the vigorous category (more than six METs), consider activities such as running (faster than more than five miles per hour), playing singles tennis, basketball or soccer, swimming, jumping, carrying heavy loads, jumping rope, playing vigorously with children or dogs, or intensive gardening such as shoveling or hoeing.

According to the study, 175 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous activity was associated with a 43% reduction in the risk of stroke in adults aged 45 or older.

The study explored how hours of sedentary time may affect stroke risk and the risk associated with shorter periods of consecutive sedentary behavior, or “episodes”.

“Most middle-aged and older adults spend more than 65% of their time in sedentary behaviors. Our sample had even higher proportions of the time they were awake being sedentary, 71% to 84%,” said explained Dr. Hooker.

The study suggests that if a person’s daily sedentary time is 13 hours or more, there is a 44% increased risk of stroke. Additionally, sedentary periods longer than 11 minutes were associated with a 53% increased risk of stroke, compared to shorter sedentary periods of less than 8 minutes.

“Our results show that periodically breaking up periods of sedentary behavior with even low-intensity physical activity can reduce stroke risk.” Dr. Hooker advised. “Intentionally getting up and accumulating four to five hours a day of light-intensity activity is beneficial. Even better, incorporating moderate-to-vigorous-intensity activity, if possible.

He suggested making a few small lifestyle changes that can have a positive impact on health:

  • Walk around the house during TV commercials
  • Set a timer to stand or move every 20-30 minutes during a workday
  • Increase low-intensity physical activity by walking more

“It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it does take thoughtful thought and planning,” Professor Howard said.

“Changing positions and doing different movements like walking down the hall or the room or around the outside, vacuuming or dusting or playing ball, having a phone conversation on foot – especially when you’re on hold – is a great thing to do,” she added.

She also suggested “walk and kick, and walk and walk” to increase your level of physical activity.

“That is, as you walk, do striking motions with alternating arms. Then another is to step and step at the same time, like a marching band,” Professor Howard explained.

She warned that if you are at higher risk of injury or have reduced mobility, it is important to have someone with you as you increase your activity level.

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