Preventing Strokes: Just a little effort reduces risk

Along comes more evidence that suggests you will live longer and more productively if you get up off your sofa and exercise moderately. A large study, presented at the 2008 American Stroke Association?s International Stroke Conference in New Orleans, followed 60,000 men and women for an average of 18 years. It found a significant connection between a moderate level of cardiorespiratory fitness and a reduction of the risk of stroke, the No. 3 cause of death in the United States.

?Fitness has a protective effect regardless of the presence or absence of other stroke risk factors, including family history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and high body mass index,? says Steven Hooker, the study?s lead author and director of the Prevention Research Center at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health. ?This study is the first to suggest that there may be a significant independent association between cardiorespiratory fitness and fatal and nonfatal stroke in men and nonfatal stroke in women,? Hooker says.
The American Stroke Association estimates that 780,000 U.S. adults suffer a stroke each year. Stroke is often fatal, claiming about 150,000 lives annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. What?s more, stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States.

Scientists examined data collected from 46,405 men and 15,282 women who participated in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study between 1970 and 2001 at the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. During that time, 692 men and 171 women in the study suffered strokes. What makes this study different is that participants were administered treadmill tests to measure their cardiorespiratory fitness. Many previous studies had depended on participants to self-report their fitness levels, Hooker says.

This is also the first study to explore the association between cardiorespiratory fitness and stroke risk in women. Men who tested in the top 25 percent of cardiovascular fitness had a 40 percent lower risk of stroke when compared to men in the bottom 25 percent, the study found. Women who measured in the top 25 percent of fitness level had a 43 percent lower risk than those in the bottom 25 percent.

What made the findings particularly heartening for people who dislike exercise is that lowering their risk of stroke does not require strenuous workouts. ?We found that a low-to-moderate amount of aerobic fitness for men and women across the whole adult age spectrum would be enough to substantially reduce stroke risk,? Hooker says. The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Communities Foundation of Texas.