It found stroke victims who had taken regular 35-minute walks before being struck down were twice as likely to suffer milder attacks than those who hadn’t.
Study author Professor Katharina Sunnerhagen, of Gothenburg University in Sweden, said: ‘There is a growing body of evidence that physical activity may have a protective effect on the brain and our research adds to that evidence.’
The latest findings, published in the journal Neurology, were based on 925 people with an average age of 73 who had a stroke.
The rate of severe cases doubled among those with sedentary lifestyles compared with those who engaged in light to moderate activity.
Light exercise was defined as walking at least four hours a week, while moderate was more intense - such as swimming, brisk walking or running two to three hours.
Professor Sunnerhagen said: ‘While exercise benefits health in many ways, our research suggests even simply getting in a small amount of physical activity each week may have a big impact later by possibly reducing the severity of a stroke.’
A UK study of more than 350,000 people this year found those who walked or cycled to work cut their risk of dying from stroke or heart disease by 30 per cent.
Around half of the participants in the latest study said they were physically inactive before their stroke.
Of these 481 people, 127 had a moderate or severe stroke rather than a mild one.
But among the 384 who engaged in light physical activity this dropped to 54. And of the 59 who took part in moderate exercise only six cases were serious.
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