How well a person recovers from a stroke may be dependent on the amount of his or her physical activity prior to the stroke, not their BMI, according to researchers.

“We found that those who exercised vigorously three times a week or more three years prior to stroke were more likely to be independent before and after stroke, compared to those who were inactive,” says study author Pamela Rist, ScD, of Harvard University in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, in a media release.

“We also found that a person’s body mass index was not a factor in predicting their level of disability after stroke,” she adds in the study, which appears in a recent issue of Neurology.

In the study, Rist and her team followed 18,117 people for about 12 years. Prior to the study’s outset, all the participants were stroke-free.

Every other year during the 12-year time period, the participants were interviewed regarding their ability to do basic activities like getting dressed, bathing, eating and getting out of bed; and more complex activities including taking medications as prescribed, grocery shopping, preparing meals, and managing money.

They were also asked their height, weight, and whether they participated in vigorous physical activity or exercise three times a week or more during the past year. Examples of vigorous physical activity included participating in sports, doing heavy housework, or a working at a job that required physical labor.

During the study, 1,374 of the participants had a stroke and survived, and 479 people had a stroke and died before the next round of interviews. Of those who did not have a stroke, 45% were physically active, compared to 43% of those who had a stroke and survived and 26% of those who had a stroke and died, according to the release, from the American Academy of Neurology.

Among stroke survivors, those who were physically inactive were 18% less likely to be taking care of their basic activities such as bathing on their own 3 years after stroke than those who exercised regularly. They also were 16% less likely to be taking care of more complex activities such as managing money on their own. The study showed similar differences between inactive and active people 3 years before a stroke occurred, the release continues.

Rist cautions in the release that being physically active does not protect against the disabling effects of a stroke.

“Our study was able to show that being physically inactive before stroke predicts a higher risk of being dependent both before and after stroke,” Rist states. “Research is needed to look into whether more intense activity could improve stroke outcomes and whether people can change their activity patterns to improve stroke outcomes.”

[Source(s): American Academy of Neurology, Newswise]