Regular, low-intensity exercise reduces severity of stroke

(Boston)--Stroke significantly impacts the ability of individuals to function independently. Research suggests that individuals who are physically active before suffering a stroke tend to have better outcomes.

In an editorial in this week's Neurology, Nicole Spartano, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), agrees that a recent study (Reinholdsson et. al.), which proposes that individuals who reported being physically active (defined as either two hours of moderate intensity or four hours of light activity per week) before their stroke had milder symptoms. She attributes this protection to maintenance of a complex network of blood vessels within the brain. "Animal studies have shown that exercise promotes redundancies in the cerebrovascular system, in which multiple arteries feed the same brain regions. While the mechanism for an active lifestyle's effect on stroke severity is not fully understood, current literature seems to suggest that these individuals may be protected."

Spartano acknowledges that while these studies are promising, more work remains to be done. "Further research will need to investigate the specific doses of physical activity (frequency, duration, and intensity) and contexts that can provide the most benefit for cerebrovascular health." She also notes larger studies that gather data about baseline level of physical activity before their stroke may help to remove some bias from the data. "A study design that assesses lifestyle factors retrospectively through self-report is prone to recall bias, potentially influenced by disease status/severity."

Ultimately, Spartano is optimistic that further study in this area can make a major difference in lowering the impact of stroke on patients' function and independence. "Reducing the size and severity of stroke has great potential to benefit individual and public health."

Boston University School of Medicine