Scientists found that inactive people are 20 per cent more likely to experience a stroke or mini-stroke than those who exercise at a moderate or vigorous intensity – enough to work up a sweat – four times a week.
Among the men in the study, only those who exercised at the same intensity four or more times a week had a lowered stroke risk.
But when it came to women, the relationship between stroke and frequency of physical activity was less clear.
The study, published in the journal Stroke, looked at more than 27,000 Americans aged 45 and older who were followed for an average of 5.7 years.
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Author of the research Doctor Michelle McDonnell, a lecturer in Health Sciences at the University of South Australia, said: ‘The stroke-lowering benefits of physical activity are related to its impact on other risk factors.
‘Exercise reduces blood pressure, weight and diabetes. If exercise was a pill, you’d be taking one pill to treat four or five different conditions.’
The research supports a previous study which found that physical inactivity is second only to high blood pressure as a risk factor for strokes.
The conclusion was based on self-reported data about the frequency of exercise, but not how long people were physically active each day.
Participants were divided relatively equally between black and white and male and female, with a majority from the ‘Stroke Belt’ states in the south-east of America.
Dr McDonnell added: ‘We can tell you how much your stroke risk improves for each cigarette you cut out or every point you reduce your blood pressure, but we still need good studies on the amount you can reduce your risk of stroke by taking up exercise.’