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Moderate to intense exercise cuts risk of 'silent stroke' 40 percent

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Silent stroke and exercise

Keeping the aging brain healthy might be as simple as taking a hike, playing racquetball, playing tennis, swimming, or engaging in other moderate to intense exercise activities. Research show older adults can cut the chances of developing brain lesions, also known as ‘silent stroke’ or brain infarcts, by 40 percent, compared to those who don’t exercise at all or exercise lightly.

Older adults who exercise moderately have healthier brains

Study author Joshua Z. Willey, MD, MS, of Columbia University in New York and a member of the American Academy of Neurology explains the finding that ‘silent stroke’ can be prevented with moderate to intense exercise is important for helping older adults avoid falls, memory problems, dementia and impaired mobility that can result from small brain lesions.

"Encouraging older people to take part in moderate to intense exercise may be an important strategy for keeping their brains healthy." Silent stroke that causes brain lesions is a risk factor that can also result in major stroke..

In their study, researchers found older adults who engaged in exercise activities like hiking, tennis, swimming, biking, jogging or racquetball were 40 percent less like to develop brain lesions indicative of lack of blood flow to the brain (infarct), compared to their counterparts who engaged in either no or light exercise.

Even though light exercise wasn’t shown to prevent silent stroke, the study authors say the finding should not discourage older adults from doing light exercise that also has beneficial effects.

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In the study that included 1,238 participants who never had a stroke, and followed for 6 years, 43 percent reported via initial questionnaire that they didn’t exercise. Thirty-six percent said they engaged in light exercise activities such as golfing, dancing, walking and bowling.

Past studies show exercise can reduce the risk of stroke, but the current study shows small brain lesions or infarcts that can occur with aging could also be prevented with at least moderate exercise.

Questionnaires were submitted at the start of the study. At approximately age 70, six years later, MRI scans were taken of the brain.

Participants who engaged in regular moderate to intense exercise were less likely to have brain infarct, even for older adults who smoked, had high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

The authors also found individuals with Medicaid or no health insurance were more likely to have 'silent stroke', even if they did exercise moderately. The researchers suspect emotional difficulties related to no health insurance negated the beneficial effects of exercise.

The study shows moderate to intense exercise for older adults could be an effective way to preserve brain function with aging and prevent ‘silent’ and major stroke. In the study, 16 percent of the participants had small areas of brain infarct.

American Academy of Neurology