A long walk may lower stroke risk in older men

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Older men who walked at least one to two hours each day compared to less than half an hour per day had a reduced risk of stroke, a large population-based study reported in Stroke says.

In the study, researchers investigated distance walked each week and usual walking pace in 3,435 healthy men age 60 to 80. They divided them into groups: those who spent 0 to three hours a week, four to seven hours, eight to 14 hours, 15 to 21 hours and more than 22 hours walking per week. Men were followed for 10 years and monitored for all new cases of stroke.

The researchers found:

  • Men who walked eight to 14 hours per week had about one-third lower risk of stroke than men who spent 0 to three hours walking each week
  • The risk was about two-thirds lower for those walking more than 22 hours a week
  • 42% walked for more than eight hours per week while 9% walked for more than 22 hours per week
  • Men who walked 0 to three hours per week had 80 strokes per 10,000 person years and men who walked eight to 14 hours per week had 55 strokes per 10,000 person years.

“If you took one thousand men who usually walk eight to 14 hours per week and followed them for 10 years, on average they would have 55 strokes, compared with 80 for the group who only walk 0 to three hours per week,” explains Barbara Jefferis, the study’s first author and senior research associate in the Department of Primary Care and Population Health at University College London, UK. “The total time spent walking was more consistently protective against stroke than walking pace; overall it seemed that accumulating more time walking was most beneficial.”

Study participants were part of the British Regional Heart Study, sampled from one primary care centre in each of 24 towns across Britain. In 1998–2000, participants completed questionnaires about various aspects of their walking activities and other physical activities.

Nurses also conducted a range of traditional health tests such as blood pressure and measured novel risk factors such as inflammatory markers.

“Our findings suggest that regular walking each week could be an important part of stroke prevention strategies in older people,” Jefferis says.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR post-doctoral fellowship to Barbara Jefferis) and the British Heart Foundation.

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