What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or severely reduced, which in turn deprives brain tissue of oxygen and food. Brain cells begin to die very quickly; prompt action is crucial.
There are three common types of stroke:
An Ischemic stroke, which accounts for 87 percent of all strokes, occurs when a blood vessel which supplies blood to the brain is obstructed.
Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures. There are two types of weakened blood vessels — aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) — but the most common cause is uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure).
TIA (transient ischemic attack) is caused by a temporary clot and is often called a "mini stroke." It should be taken very seriously as it may be a warning of a larger stroke occurring soon.
A stroke can develop over hours or even days. The symptoms depend on the type of stroke and the area of the brain that’s affected; the length and severity of the symptoms vary from individual to individual.
Signs of a stroke may include:
- sudden weakness;
- numbness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side of the body;
- general mental confusion;
- unable to speak;
- unable to understand someone else;
- vision impairment in one or both eyes;
- breathing problems;
- loss of balance or coordination;
- loss of consciousness; and,
- a sudden and severe headache.
Strokes can be treated and prevented, but it requires paying attention to symptoms and knowing the risk factors.
What are the risk factors for stroke?
As there are with many other health conditions, there are controllable and uncontrollable risk factors for stroke.
Controllable risk factors include lifestyle factors that can be changed, and medical risk factors which can usually be treated. Working with a doctor on these risk factors will be beneficial.
Controllable risk factors for stroke are:
- high blood pressure;
- atrial fibrillation (heart palpitations, dizziness, "butterflies" in the chest);
- high cholesterol;
- circulation problems;
- alcohol use;
- physical inactivity; and,
Uncontrollable risk factors include:
- being over age 55;
- African-American, Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander; and
- family history of stroke or TIA's.
Can exercise prevent stroke?
If you are at high risk of a stroke, then adopting a healthy lifestyle and exercising are the best steps you can take to prevent a stroke.
Healthy lifestyle recommendations include 1:
- control high blood pressure;
- manage stress;
- maintain a healthy weight;
- limit alcohol and sodium;
- quit smoking;
- reduce the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet;
- control diabetes; and,
- exercise regularly — up to 30 minutes a day. Walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, aerobic activities — all are beneficial. Exercise will help you control blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
What about after a stroke? Will exercise help?
The National Stroke Association recommends these daily activities:
- Walk, bend and stretch to strengthen the body and keep it flexible.
- Move weakened or paralyzed body parts while seated or lying down.
- Follow a planned exercise program.
The American Heart Association has written a detailed and highly annotated article about post-stroke exercise. One paragraph says:
"Several important factors underscore the potential value of exercise training and physical activity in stroke survivors. Previous studies have demonstrated the trainability of stroke survivors and documented beneficial physiological, psychological, sensorimotor, strength, endurance, and functional effects of various types of exercise. Moreover, data from studies involving stroke and able-bodied subjects have documented the beneficial impact of regular physical activity on multiple cardiovascular disease risk factors and provided evidence that such benefits are likely to translate into a reduced risk for mortality from stroke and cardiac events. Although they require additional validation by randomized clinical trials and other appropriately designed studies, these observations make recommendations for stroke survivors to participate in regular physical activity highly compelling at the present time." 2 (My italics.)
On almost any website about stroke rehabilitation, these general exercises will be suggested:
- full range-of-motion movements (whatever is achievable);
- weight training (with appropriate weights);
- relaxation activities; and,
- breathing exercises.
Since the nature of the disability following a stroke varies with each individual, it is important for someone who has suffered a stroke to follow the advice of their doctor and/or physiotherapist.
This article is part of a series about various health conditions and the benefits of exercise. The other articles are:
- Exercise and Allergies
- Exercise and Arthritis
- Exercise and Asthma
- Exercise and Balance
- Exercise and Cancer
- Exercise and Chronic Pain
- Exercise and Circulation
- Exercise and COPD
- Exercise and Dementia
- Exercise and Diabetes
- Exercise and Heart Disease
- Exercise and Hypertension
- Exercise and Lifestyle and Older Adults: Recent Research
- Exercise and Mood
- Exercise and Osteoporosis
- Exercise and Our Brain
- Exercise and Pain vs. Burn: Will it ever stop hurting?
- Exercise and Parkinson's
- Exercise and Sleep
- Exercise and Viruses: Exercise Immunology
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.
These suggestions come from the Mayo Clinic guide online at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/basics/prevention/con-20042884. ↩︎