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Leisure time physical activity is a powerful tool to prevent stroke

A recent analysis presents a compelling case for the benefits of leisure time physical activity in stroke prevention.

The study shines a light on an encouraging fact. Even activities falling below the current recommended guidelines can offer protective benefits against stroke. This revelation stands independent of age or sex.

Intense physical activity is not always better

The prevailing wisdom has long supported the idea that moderate to high levels of physical activity during leisure time significantly decrease stroke risk. However, questions remained about the protective value of lower levels of activity.

It was also unclear whether factors like age and gender influenced these benefits. The new study seeks to provide clarity on these points.

Current international guidelines suggest adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Alternatively, they can opt for 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity.

This recommendation aims to mitigate cardiovascular disease risks, including stroke. Unfortunately, achieving these benchmarks is a common struggle among adults.

Stroke risk reduced by 29 percent

To explore the potential benefits of less intensive exercise, the researchers analyzed 15 studies encompassing 752,050 adults who were monitored over an average span of 10.5 years. The studies varied in their categorization of leisure time physical activity, ranging from none to intense levels.

The analysis revealed that, compared to a lack of activity, engaging in the highest “ideal” level of leisure time physical activity reduced stroke risk by 29%.

Intriguingly, even “below target” levels of activity associated with an 18% reduction in risk. This trend remained consistent across studies, even those that examined up to five different levels of activity intensity.

Minimal amounts of physical activity count

A moderate level of physical activity was found to reduce stroke risk by 27% to 29%. This reduction occurred irrespective of the participants’ sex and age.

Despite facing challenges such as the diverse definitions of activity levels across studies and the subjective nature of physical activity assessment, the researchers’ conclusions are robust. Leisure time physical activity, even in minimal amounts, could significantly contribute to stroke prevention over the long term.

Movement matters

The authors advocate for a broad encouragement of physical activity. “According to our results, all levels of [leisure time physical activity] can be beneficial for stroke prevention, including levels currently regarded as low or insufficient. People should be encouraged to be physically active even at the lowest levels,” wrote the researchers.

This statement underscores the study’s critical message: even small amounts of physical activity can have significant long-term health benefits.

More about leisure time physical activity 

Leisure time physical activity refers to any exercise or movement that is done during free time, as opposed to physical activity that may be part of one’s job or daily chores. 

This type of activity is particularly important because it’s chosen freely, making it more likely to be enjoyable and sustained over time. 

Range of activities 

Leisure time physical activity encompasses a wide range of activities from walking, swimming, and cycling to playing sports, dancing, and practicing yoga. 

The beauty of leisure time physical activity lies in its flexibility and diversity, allowing individuals to select activities that best fit their interests, physical capabilities, and lifestyle.

Health benefits 

Engaging in leisure time physical activity offers numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, better mood and mental well-being, weight management, increased muscle and bone strength, and enhanced flexibility and balance. 

For many, it also provides a valuable opportunity for social interaction and outdoor exposure, further enhancing its mental health benefits.

Rewarding exercise 

The key to reaping these benefits is consistency and finding activities that are enjoyable. This ensures that exercise feels less like a chore and more like a rewarding, integral part of daily life. 

Whether it’s a structured exercise program, team sports, or simply a daily walk in the park, incorporating physical activity into leisure time can significantly contribute to overall health and quality of life. 

The full study is published in the journal Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.


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