Exercise and Stroke: Don’t Exercise Too Hard

Under the advice of a doctor, exercise is a very healthy activity that can have tremendous health benefits. Exercise has been found to be beneficial for decreasing the risk of a second stroke in first-time ischemic stroke survivors – unless the level of exercise varies significantly from day to day. A study in Scientific Reports found that post-stroke patients who did not exercise at all had the highest risk of a second stroke, and those who exercised moderately and consistently (generally walking) more than five times per week at an average of 40 minutes per session had the lowest risk. However, those whose exercise duration varied over 4 hours between sessions had an elevated risk of stroke than the others.

But what about people who have not had a stroke? Can too much exercise bring on a stroke? Some evidence indicates that it can. A study published in the scientific journal Physics and Fluid concluded that those who have moderately blocked carotid arteries have an increased risk of stroke.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, an estimated 16.5 million Americans (5%) may have carotid artery stenosis, a condition when fat and cholesterol build-up forms plaque along the walls of the artery. This causes a narrowing of the artery, decreasing room for blood flow.

Stenosis is more common among people who are obese, live a sedentary lifestyle, smoke, or have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Many people have more than one of these conditions, further increasing the risk of stenosis.

Researchers created a model to simulate blood flow through veins that had no blockage, 30% blockage (mild), and 50% blockage (moderate).  They compared a resting heart rate of 67-100 beats per minute to an exercise-induced rate of 140 beats per minute.

Researchers found that veins with mild or no stenosis did not experience adverse effects from the increased heart rate, but moderately or severely blocked veins showed serious stress. The computer model demonstrated not only erratic blood flow, but also stress on the walls of the stenosis (the plaque buildup), which could lead to plaque rupture and thrombus development (blood clot). This ruptured plaque could travel through the blood to the brain, causing an ischemic stroke.

For those who are overweight or live a sedentary lifestyle, it does not take excessive exercise to reach a heart rate of 140 bpm. A brisk walk or long flight of stairs is sufficient to raise the heart rate to that level. But even those who are physically fit may have an increased risk of stroke from vigorous exercise. Unfortunately, stenosis of the artery is not easily detected unless your doctor looks for it.

If you are embarking on a new habit of exercise and you have any of the factors that can contribute to stenosis, check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen. If you are physically fit, consult with your doctor about your risk of stenosis and any tests you should take to confirm that you are not at risk for stroke. 

Neuralert stroke detection wristbands are a powerful tool for doctors to monitor vulnerable patients and those with major risk factors for stroke. Our non-invasive wristband looks like a smartwatch and is paired with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence technology that can evaluate the most common signs of stroke and immediately alert health professionals to evaluate the patient. Talk to your doctor about adding a Neuralert stroke detection wristband to your overall medical health strategy.