If you need another reason for why you should get started on a regular workout regimen, add lowering your stroke risk and cardiovascular mortality to the list.
According to Hebah Hefzy, M.D., a vascular neurologist for Henry Ford Health, not only can exercising consistently help keep you in shape, but it has also been proven to lower your stroke risk, lessen the severity of a possible stroke and help you recover better if you have had a stroke before.
Studies have found that people who run, even at slower speeds for short amounts of time (as little as 5-10 minutes/day), have as much as a 45% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality risk than those who don’t run at all. Additionally, it was found that people who participate in moderate-intensity aerobic activities can reduce the likelihood of stroke by 20%. (Risk can be reduced by as much as 60% with daily moderate-intensity activities for 30-60 minutes.)
“When you exercise, it makes your heart work harder to supply blood to the muscles throughout your body,” says Dr. Hefzy. “Over time, consistent exercise conditions the heart to handle this type of strain while promoting new blood vessel and neuron growth.”
You might notice the effects of this when you feel your heart racing after going for a run or doing a cardio-based workout. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that you get at least 150-300 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise weekly, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise to improve your cardiovascular health.
Keeping Consistent With Your Workouts
Any type of physical activity is better than no physical activity. “In the past few years with COVID-19, more and more people have slipped into a sedentary routine,” says Dr. Hefzy. “And we know that prolonged sedentary time, whether at work or in your free time, is associated with an increased risk of stroke.”
The best way to reduce that risk of stroke is to establish a lifelong commitment to regular physical activity. Dr. Hefzy stresses that it is better to be physically active every single day than to put your efforts into intense workouts only a few days a week.
Here are some ideas for prioritizing physical fitness throughout your day:
- Something is better than nothing. Look for opportunities throughout the day to squeeze in a short workout or a walk – even on your busiest days.
- Find a buddy. A workout buddy can help keep you accountable on days when you don’t feel like being active.
- Switch it up. Being active is good but doing the same thing every day can make it difficult to stay motivated. Diversify your workouts by trying something new occasionally.
- Be smart about recovery. It takes time for your heart to handle high-intensity workouts. Make sure you take plenty of time to cool down and stretch after being active.
- Redefine rest days. While your body does need time to recover after workouts, your rest days shouldn’t be spent on the couch. Make the most of them by doing lower intensity workouts and dynamic stretches.
Reducing Your Stroke Risk At Any Age
“If someone runs marathons in their 30’s that doesn’t mean they should expect to keep that up into their 60’s,” says Dr. Hefzy. “Instead, tailor workouts to what you are able to do. If you can’t run, going for a walk every day is equally beneficial in reducing your stroke risk.”
Remember, it is not so much the intensity that you need to think about, but rather, being consistent with exercise. A stroke can happen at any age (based on risk and lifestyle factors). Start prioritizing your physical fitness now to begin reducing your risk.
Dr. Hebah Hefzy is a vascular neurologist who sees patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.