Everyone knows that exercise is good for your health, integral to keeping your risks of conditions like heart attack, diabetes and stroke low. Now, a new study shows that at least for stroke, the key to reaping those benefits is to work out to the point where you break a sweat.
Researchers from the University of South Australia found that stroke risk is 20 percent higher for inactive people compared with those who regularly work out at a moderate to vigorous level -- a level that would cause a person to break a sweat.
The study, published in the journal Stroke, included 27,000 Americans ages 45 and older who were part of the Reasons for Geographic and Ethnic Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study. The researchers noted that there were about equal numbers of male and female, white and black participants in the study; many of the pariticipants were part of the "Stroke Belt" in the south.
Researchers followed them for 5.7 years on average to gauge how many would go on to experience a stroke, as well as their self-reported regular exercise habits. They found that about one third of the participants were considered "inactive," meaning they exercise fewer than one time a week.
The study authors found several links between exercise and stroke risk, particularly that men who worked out four or more times a week at a moderate to vigorous level had a 20 percent lower stroke risk. However, they noted that association was less defined for women.
"The stroke-lowering benefits of physical activity are related to its impact on other risk factors," study researcher Michelle McDonnell, Ph.D., a lecturer at the School of Health Sciences at the International Centre for Allied Health Evidence at the university, said in a statement. "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."
While this study found associations between more intense exercise and lowered stroke risk, previous research also suggests consistent, lower-intensity exercise could have an effect, too. Research also published in Stroke earlier this year showed that for women, walking for at least 3.5 hours a week is linked with a lower stroke risk. However, researchers did not observe this same effect in men.