Women in their fifties may be concerned about the risk of strokes yet many do not feel that a “gym” lifestyle is for them. The good news is that in a long-term study by the Harvard School of Public Health, it was found that walking came out on top for slashing the risk of strokes in women by up to 68%. Here’s the lowdown:

The research study followed more than 39,000 female health professionals with an average age of 54. Every 2-3 years the study group reported on their physical activity which ranged from jogging and aerobics classes to yoga. The results were compared to those who did not exercise at all. Many women used walking to keep fit and they were classified according to the speed at which they walked. Casual was about 2 mph, normal was 2.9 mph and brisk was 3.9 mph.

The women who walked at a brisk pace had a 37% lower risk of having any type of stroke and those who walked at any pace for two or more hours per week had a 30% lower risk of having a stroke.

There are two types of strokes: ischemic strokes are caused when the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a blood clot and hemorrhagic strokes are caused when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, allowing blood to enter the spaces surrounding the brain cells. The results can be permanent brain damage or worse, leaving sufferers with disabilities including partial paralysis or problems with speech and memory.

When the results of this women’s health study were broken down into the two different types of strokes, the results were dramatically different. The risk of suffering a hemorrhagic stroke was lowered by 57% for those who walked at any pace for two or more hours per week, whilst the brisk walkers had an unbelievable 68% lower risk of having a hemorrhagic stroke. The risk of having an ischemic stroke was lowered by 30% for those who walked for two or more hours a week and an impressive 37% for those who maintained a brisk pace of around 3.9 mph.

The conclusion is that physical activity, especially regular walking, is associated with a lower risk of suffering a stroke. Physical activity has long been associated with supporting a healthy heart and reducing heart disease. Walking is something almost everyone can do to reap the rewards of a healthy cardiovascular system and lower the risk of a debilitating stroke.

It is not always easy to “guesstimate” how fast you are walking. One method is to wear a pedometer or step counting device. Once it has been set with the individual wearer’s pace length, it not only counts steps but also calculates the distance walked and the average speed. For the less technically minded, use the “talk test”. At a brisk pace you should be able to talk but not sing. So give a couple of lines of your favorite song a blast, and if it sounds good, step up the pace a little. If you are unable to talk, then slow down a little and smell the roses!