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Every bit of exercise helps stroke patients, researchers find

Coralie English stands next to a blood pressure monitor.
Associate Professor Coralie English's team monitored samples and blood pressure of stroke patients after different rates of exercise.

ABC Newcastle: Robert Virtue

Scientists have made a breakthrough in understanding the role exercise can play in reducing the risk of people having a second stroke.

In a world-first study, researchers from the University of Newcastle studied the impact a sedentary lifestyle had on stroke patients.

On separate occasions, clinical trial participants, who had previously had a stroke, were monitored after they had sat all day, after they did gentle standing exercises every half hour, and after completing a short walk every half hour.

Associate Professor Coralie English said her team found frequent exercise throughout the day helped reduce blood pressure in stroke patients.

"[The results] were surprising in some ways.

"Similar results have been found in populations other than stroke, so there was some indication that we might have that finding.

"What was particularly interesting about it was these benefits held true whether or not people were on medications to reduce their blood pressure.

"It seems that getting up and moving frequently is another way of helping to reduce your blood pressure, in addition to medications."

Every bit of exercise helps

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in Australia, and World Stroke Day is on October 29.

Dr English said the results indicated the importance of exercise for good health.

"We know that getting out and doing more brisk levels of activity, the sort of activity that gets your heart rate up a little bit, is the most important thing for people to be doing," she said.

"This new information gives us more evidence that even a little bit is important; even if you can't get your heart rate up, getting up and moving a little bit as frequently as you can during the day is going to have some positive benefits on your blood pressure.

"There's a lot more we need to do to understand the right people we need to target [interventions] to, how much, and what sort of interventions are most helpful to people to change their behaviour in the longer term."

Dr English said stroke patients should find meaningful exercise to participate in.

"[For example], people who had an arm affected by their stroke, who then couldn't do things with two arms like they used to, sat for much longer every day in their usual life because they couldn't do the things they used to do that involved them getting up and moving around," she said.

"For people working with stroke survivors — occupational therapists, physiotherapists — it's important for us to help people find meaningful activities they enjoy doing that involves them being up on their feet, so that becomes part of their daily life."