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 Stroke Prevention: Tell Your Wife to Take a Hike 
 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by . View all columns in series
And tell her I told you to do so!

Actually a brisk 30-minute walk each day will do.

According to a landmark study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the results are finally in - women who perform a half hour or more of vigorous exercise each day have the potential to reduce their chances of experiencing the most common form of stroke by 30%.

These extraordinary findings represent a detailed analysis of 6 years of data from more than 72,000 women. The "Nurses Health Study," conducted by Harvard researchers is the first large-scale trial to prove the value of exercise in the prevention of what is termed, "ischemic" stroke.

Ischemic strokes typically occur under two circumstances. In the first, thrombotic stroke, blood flow to a specific brain area is reduced or shut off due to progressive atherosclerosis resulting in narrowing of cerebral blood vessels. The second, termed embolic stroke, occurs when a clot travels to another site, wedges itself at a critical juncture and prevents blood flow to specific brain areas. Both events can result in tragic life consequences such as weakness, paralysis, blindness, incoordination, difficulty speaking/understanding or altered sensation. In a significant number of cases, despite appropriate medical treatment, deficits are permanent.

From a practical perspective, the Harvard data is especially impressive considering the fact that the benefits were the same whether the women jogged, performed aerobics or simply walked briskly. And the good news doesn’t end here. Dr. JoAnn Manson, one of the study’s authors commented, "The earlier you develop good habits, the better. But it's an important public health point that it's never too late. Someone shouldn’t think if they are 60, 70, 80 years old they won't get the health benefits."

As a neurologist, I personally find the results of this study enlightening. On so many occasions over the years, I've cared for individuals who have been admitted to the hospital after a stroke. While some have improved through rehabilitation, many have lived on with substantial deficits that have limited their quality of life. Some are no longer able to live on their own or care for themselves.

While the prospects of stroke may seem frightening, this new data is nothing short of encouraging. It adds to the control we can establish by taking an active role in our own well-being. If you consider the potential additive effects of established stroke prevention strategies such as low fat diet, cholesterol reduction, blood pressure control, and now... exercise, it's clear that you can shift your odds in a positive direction.

So ... with this knowledge at hand, what is the best way to get started? My suggestion is to simply begin with something you enjoy doing. Yet it's also important to realize that a longstanding commitment is necessary.

Since it's easy to lose interest, why not consider exercising with a friend? When enthusiasm wanes, you can support each other with the proverbial and motivational kick in the behind. If you chose to do it alone, join a fitness club. While home exercise equipment tends to magically morph into coat hangers, writing that check for the membership fee just might ensure enough guilt to stimulate you to show up on a regular basis in order to get your money's worth.

If your past experience with exercise was anything less than positive, don't give up. Try something new and perhaps you'll discover a sense of happiness you never imagined possible. Rediscover your inner child, get out there and play, and explore new possibilities.

While you’re at it, know that there are other benefits as well, such as preventing breast cancer, reducing stress responses, boosting energy levels and simply feeling better about yourself everyday. Frankly the list goes on ... but I have to get going on my morning walk with my wife and dogs. I'll leave it to you to discover how great you can feel!

Before I go, just consider one last thing - when your husband tells you to "take a hike," give him a hug and ask him to join you -- Mind Over Matter!

© 2000 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

      
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 About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a......moreBarry Bittman MD
 
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