Reduce the risk of stroke through exercise

Most of us should sit around less and move about more to benefit our health, because taking exercise plays a vital role in improving our overall well-being.  Just 30 minutes of activity five days a week can reduce by a quarter our risk of having a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA) and also conditions like coronary heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes. Aerobic or “cardio” exercise helps strengthen the heart and lungs, lowers blood pressure, prevents obesity and controls cholesterol and stress levels – all of which can reduce risk of stroke. Aerobic exercise is most beneficial, it’s rhythmic and repetitive movements use the large body muscles and work the heart and lungs. Aerobic exercises include walking, dancing and swimming.

It’s best not to exercise for a couple of hours after a heavy meal and exercise before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep.  But, get motivated, choose an exercise you enjoy depending on your interests, abilities and what is locally available. Maybe exercise at home; gardening is an excellent activity, and simple brisk walking uses every major muscle, plus having the bonus of being in the fresh air. Maybe you prefer to be indoors with others in a regular fitness class? Aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more times a week, but you don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once, break it into smaller blocks of time throughout the day.

Your age, general health, and current level of activity will affect what you do but it’s never too late to start being more active. Prevent injuries by warming up before you begin – “walk vigorously” on the spot for 2 minutes, and cool down afterwards by “strolling” on the spot for a few minutes.  This allows the heart rate to slow down, and while your body’s still warm is an ideal time to stretch out your muscles.

For most people with high blood pressure exercise may help lower it. During exercise blood pressure naturally rises for a short time but returns to its usual level when you stop.  The quicker it returns to normal, the fitter you are. High blood pressure medication may be needed to lower it before you increase your activity levels.  So speak to your GP, particularly if you haven’t exercised for some time or are on medication, because some medication, such as beta-blockers slow your heart rate and sedatives can cause drowsiness.