According to a study, regular moderate to intense exercise could protect the brain from “silent strokes,” small brain lesions that are the first sign of cerebrovascular disease. Cerebrovascular disease is a group of brain disorders related to disease of the blood vessels that supply the brain. Cerebrovascular disease includes all disorders in which an area of the brain is permanently or temporarily affected by bleeding or the lack of blood flow.
Cerebrovascular disease mostly impacts the elderly or those individuals have a history of ischemic heart disease or diabetes. Cerebrovascular disease includes aneurysms, stroke, vertebral stenosis, carotid stenosis and intracranial stenosis, as well as vascular malformations.
These ‘silent strokes’ are more significant than the name implies, because they have been associated with a higher risk of falls and impaired mobility, stroke, memory problems and even dementia. Encouraging people to take part in moderate to intense exercise may be an important strategy for keeping their brains healthy.
The researchers examined data of 1,238 older people who had never had a stroke. At the start of the study, 43 percent of the participants reported that they had no regular exercise; 36 percent engaged in regular light exercise, such as walking, golf, dancing or bowling; and 21 percent engaged in regular moderate to intense exercise, such as tennis, hiking, biking, swimming, racquetball or jogging.
Approximately six years later, when the participants were an average of 70 years old, the researchers made MRI scans of their brains. The brain scans revealed that 16 percent had small brain lesions called silent strokes. The participants who reported engaging in moderate to intense exercise were 40 percent less likely to have the silent strokes than those who did no regular exercise.
The results had taken into account other vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. There was no difference of the likelihood of silent strokes between those who engaged in light exercise and those who did not exercise.
Participants who exercised regularly at a moderate to intense level who had Medicaid or no health insurance were no less likely to have silent strokes than people who did no regular exercise.