Lower your risk of stroke with ex­er­cise

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Jen­nifer Small­ridge

When it comes to strokes and ex­er­cise, peo­ple of­ten won­der if ex­er­cise can re­duce the risk of hav­ing a stroke. All strokes oc­cur when there is a block­age of or break in the ves­sels that sup­ply blood to the brain. When the brain cells don’t re­ceive a blood sup­ply, they are de­prived of oxy­gen and the cells start to die.


• Is­chemic stroke oc­curs when a plaque causes an ob­struc­tion within a blood ves­sel sup­ply­ing blood to the brain.

• Hae­m­or­rhagic stroke oc­curs when a weak­ened blood ves­sel rup­tures and bleeds into the brain area. • Mini-stroke also called a tran­sient is­chemic at­tack (TIA) is caused by a tem­po­rary clot in the blood ves­sels.


Blood ves­sels were de­signed to be flex­i­ble and free from ob­struc­tions, so that oxy­genated blood can flow freely to cells, tis­sues and or­gans. Over time, small plaques made of choles­terol and cal­cium can build up on the in­side of the ves­sel walls and if the blood pres­sure is too high for too long, they can break off and block the blood ves­sels. When this hap­pens near the brain mo­men­tar­ily, it’s known as a mini-stroke and if there is a com­plete block­age, an is­chaemic stroke has oc­curred.


Symp­toms vary de­pend­ing on the time that the brain is de­prived of oxy­gen. A mini-stroke, refers to a tem­po­rary or tran­sient lack of blood sup­ply to the brain. This is the point where peo­ple re­port stroke-like symp­toms – which could in­clude weak­ness or numb­ness of the face, arms or legs, dizzi­ness, loss of vi­sion, a sud­den and se­vere headache or nau­sea and vom­it­ing. Of­ten, th­ese symp­toms are present for a few min­utes and then dis­ap­pear, which makes it dif­fer­ent to an is­chaemic stroke where the symp­toms re­main and cause mod­er­ate to se­vere ef­fects on the brain.


After a mini-stroke, the risk of hav­ing a stroke is 10 times higher than some­one who has never had one. A mini-stroke can be con­sid­ered a warn­ing sign – and your doc­tor will pre­scribe med­i­ca­tions

Ex­er­cise can re­duce the risk of stroke.

to en­sure that your heart, blood ves­sels and brain are as safe as they can be. It’s also a crit­i­cal time to look at your lifestyle and make sure that your whole body is healthy. There’s no bet­ter in­vest­ment of your time and en­ergy to achieve this than ex­er­cise to re­duce the risk of stroke.


• Ex­er­cise low­ers blood pres­sure. Hav­ing high blood pres­sure is the sin­gle big­gest risk fac­tor for hav­ing a stroke. Did you know that just one bout of ex­er­cise low­ers your blood pres­sure af­ter­wards?

• Ex­er­cise low­ers choles­terol lev­els. Choles­terol gen­er­ally takes a few months to make big changes, how­ever ex­er­cise is par­tic­u­larly good at in­creas­ing the good (HDL) lev­els and low­er­ing the bad (LDL) lev­els, a win-win for car­dio­vas­cu­lar health.

• Ex­er­cise thins the blood nat­u­rally. Reg­u­lar ex­er­cise prevents fu­ture stroke events by break­ing down fi­brous clots in the blood­stream, pro­vid­ing a pre­ven­ta­tive ef­fect for any car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease.

• Ex­er­cise re­duces ab­dom­i­nal obe­sity. Car­ry­ing ex­tra weight around your mid­line is another sig­nif­i­cant risk fac­tor for stroke.

• Ex­er­cise helps to pre­vent and man­age type 2 di­a­betes. High blood glu­cose is another con­trib­u­tor to in­flam­ma­tion and stroke risk.


Be­cause mini-strokes or TIA’s rarely re­sult in long last­ing im­pair­ment or dam­age, they can be eas­ily over­looked and the op­por­tu­nity for ap­pro­pri­ate lifestyle in­ter­ven­tion of­ten is missed. The good news is that gen­tle phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity is safe and ex­tremely ef­fec­tive. Sim­ply start with walk­ing and build up to 30 min­utes ev­ery day. This has been clin­i­cally proven to re­duce fu­ture stroke risk and over­all ben­e­fit to gen­eral health. If you are think­ing of ex­er­cis­ing at a higher in­ten­sity or want to add in strength train­ing ex­er­cises, your doc­tor can make a re­fer­ral to your lo­cal Ac­cred­ited Ex­er­cise Phys­i­ol­o­gist.

This will en­sure that your ex­er­cise ca­pac­ity is mea­sured and you are en­gag­ing in the right kind of ex­er­cise for your in­di­vid­ual health con­cerns. If you are for­tu­nate enough not to have had a min-stroke or TIA, but you are con­cerned about your risk lev­els, knowl­edge is power. The best way to know your health pro­file is to get your choles­terol and blood pres­sure checked reg­u­larly. Start your ex­er­cise jour­ney to­day by tak­ing a walk or even tak­ing the stairs in­stead of the el­e­va­tor – your blood ves­sels will thank you.

Jen­nifer Small­ridge is an Ac­cred­ited Ex­er­cise Phys­i­ol­o­gist at Up­well Health

Col­lec­tive in Cam­ber­well, Vic­to­ria; as well as an Aca­demic Lec­turer in the fields of Ex­er­cise Sci­ence and Func­tional Hu­man Anatomy.

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