Walk it off: 3 to 4 hours of walking weekly cuts the risk of death in half for stroke survivors

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — “Walk it off” can be a condescending thing to say to someone dealing with an injury. However, a new study finds walking really does provide a significant health boost to people who have suffered a stroke. Researchers with the American Academy of Neurology find that just three to four hours of walking or light physical activity each week cuts the risk of death among stroke survivors in half.

The study reveals that three or four hours of activities like walking or gardening, two to three hours of bike riding, or an equal amount of other exercises after a stroke reduces a survivor’s risk of death by 54 percent. In younger stroke survivors, under the age of 75, that risk drops by a staggering 80 percent.

“A better understanding of the role of physical activity in the health of people who survive stroke is needed to design better exercise therapies and public health campaigns so we can help these individuals live longer,” says study author Raed A. Joundi, MD, from the University of Calgary in a media release.

“Our results are exciting, because just three to four hours a week of walking was associated with big reductions in mortality, and that may be attainable for many community members with prior stroke. In addition, we found people achieved even greater benefit with walking six to seven hours per week. These results might have implications for guidelines for stroke survivors in the future.”

Physical activity benefits everyone

The study examined 895 stroke survivors with an average age of 72 and over 97,000 people who had never had a stroke. The healthy group had an average age of 63. The team evaluated each person’s level of physical activity, asking each participant about their walking, running, gardening, weight training, cycling, and swimming habits each week. Researchers used their answers about the frequency and duration of their exercises to estimate how active each person was on a weekly basis.

The study followed these groups for an average of four and a half years. Study authors also accounted for certain factors which can influence a person’s mortality risk, including age and smoking habits.

Over the course of the study, 25 percent of stroke survivors died from any cause. During that time, only six percent of healthy participants also died.

However, among the stroke group, only 15 percent of survivors who walked three to four hours a week died during the study. In comparison, 33 percent of stroke survivors who did not reach that minimum amount of physical activity died from all causes.

Younger stroke survivors enjoyed even greater benefits. Those under 75 years-old who exercised weekly lowered their risk of death by 80 percent. Although the impact of physical activity was less in older patients, stroke survivors over 75 who exercised still cut their risk of death by 32 percent.

In the group that never suffered a stroke, just four percent of those who exercised weekly died in comparison to eight percent of those who did not.

“We should particularly emphasize this to stroke survivors who are younger in age, as they may gain the greatest health benefits from walking just thirty minutes each day,” Joundi concludes.

The findings appear in the journal Neurology.