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Dr. Frasat Chaudhry, St. Luke's Hospital

Walking can lower the risk of stroke in women

What's the first step in preventing a stroke? Maybe it's as simple as taking, you guessed it, the first step.

According to a recent study released by the American Stroke Association, women who walked for three hours a week lowered their risk for stroke by an impressive 43 percent. This is a remarkable figure considering about 795,000 people experience a stroke every year. That accounts for 137,000 deaths, and nearly 60 percent of those deaths are women. The study showed that women who walked for 210 or more minutes per week lowered their risk of stroke more than women who did little or no walking.

Making simple changes, like parking your car farther away whenever you shop or go to work, is a good start. Walking your children to school, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and taking your dog for more walks than usual are also easy ways to get in more activity. Really, women can take advantage of the health benefits of walking whenever they can. And they should. It appears women, and men, in the United States could incorporate more walking in their lives. According to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, people in the United States are a step behind other parts of the world. It showed Americans took approximately 5,117 steps a day, less than the averages in Western Australia, Switzerland and Japan.

In addition to lowering the risk of stroke in women, walking can also produce other health benefits. They include lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol, raising HDL ("good") cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, reducing your risk or type 2 diabetes, helping to manage your weight, improving your mood and lowering stress.

Everyone should be aware of their risk factors for stroke. Those risk factors include a family history of high blood pressure, being overweight or obese, tobacco use, high sodium intake, high alcohol consumption and low physical activity levels. Being African-American is also a risk factor.

If you exhibit signs of a stroke, such as sudden confusion, slurred speech, weakness in the face or severe headache, call 911 immediately and ask for the closest primary stroke center for treatment.

Dr. Frasat Chaudhry specializes in neurology at St. Luke's Hospital.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 13, 2013.