Exercise may protect the brain against the harmful effects of strokes and improve recovery, a study has shown.
Physically active patients who experience an intracerebral haemorrhage, the second most common type of stroke, were more likely to experience reduced bleeding on the brain than those who did not exercise.
The findings, published in the journal Stroke and Vascular Neurology from the University of Gothenburg, suggested that exercise may play a role in protecting the brain against the impact of a stroke.
An intracerebral haemorrhage is the most dangerous type of stroke and can lead to life-threatening conditions. In cases with a lot of bleeding, the risk of severe consequences increases, and neurosurgery is more likely to be required. For more minor bleeds, non-surgical methods and medications help the patient recover.
Using data collected at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden between 2014 to 2019, the researchers conducted a retrospective study to determine the effects of exercise on 686 people treated for intracerebral haemorrhage. Every patient received a CT scan when they arrived at the hospital, which allowed the researchers to assess the bleed volume and analyse it against self-reported levels of exercise. The researchers defined ‘physically active’ as undertaking light activities, such as walking, cycling, swimming, gardening, or dancing, for at least four hours a week.
Engaging in regular physical activity prior to experiencing an intracerebral haemorrhage was shown to be associated with reduced haematoma volumes. Those who reported regular physical activity had bleed volumes that were, on average, 50 per cent smaller than those who reported being inactive.
Reduced bleeding was found to be the case in all areas of the cerebrum, with physically active individuals exhibiting less bleeding in both the deep regions of the brain, often associated with high blood pressure, as well as the surface regions, which are linked to conditions such as dementia.
The study underlines the health benefits associated with increased physical activity and highlights the protective benefits that exercise can bring to the brain.
‘In cases of major intracerebral haemorrhages, there is a risk of increased pressure within the skull that can potentially lead to fatal outcomes,’ said Professor Thomas Skoglund, a neurosurgeon at the University Hospital and one of the study’s co-authors.
Professor Katharina Stibrant Sunnerhagen, from the University of Gothenburg, added: ‘We hope that our findings contribute to a deeper understanding of intracerebral haemorrhages and aid in developing more effective preventive measures.’