Following some of the same advice he gives to patients, Lee Schwamm, MD, Mass General's director of Stroke Services, is exercising every single day for at least 30 minutes,

It has been about 140 days since Lee Schwamm, MD, executive vice chairman of the Department of Neurology and director of Stroke Services, began exercising every single day for at least 30 minutes per day. Dr. Schwamm embarked on this life-changing journey, he says, because increasingly he sits in his office talking to patients about becoming more active, changing diets and exercising as the most effective way to prevent stroke.

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Read more: Expert Insights into Stroke Prevention and Care

“I felt disingenuous,” says Dr. Schwamm. “I said to myself, ‘What would happen if I just decided to do 30 minutes per day for one month. What would it feel like? How hard would it be?’ I could speak from a more personal place with my patients.”

Exercise and Stroke Prevention

After making this change and experiencing positive results, Schwamm hopes his colleagues, patients and others will do the same. In recognition of May as Stroke Awareness Month – and to emphasize the importance of exercise in stroke prevention – Dr. Schwamm is proposing a 
30-for-30 Challenge: exercise for 30 minutes a day for 30 consecutive days.

Dr. Schwamm says exercise is a powerful prescription. Being in good physical shape not only changes the way a person’s blood vessels react if they are put in a situation where they are deprived of vital nutrients, but it increases their resilience to ischemia (reduced blood supply to the brain or heart), when tissue is deprived of oxygen and glucose.

“People have to start reaching for exercise as a form of reward rather than a form of deprivation, and stop reaching for food as reward.

Something Good for Yourself

“When a person exercises, they’re not just training their muscles,” says Dr. Schwamm. “They’re training blood vessels too. With sufficient exercise, blood vessels will be ready to react when they need to dilate or constrict.”

Forms of exercise could include walking, running, swimming, riding a bike, playing sports – really any activity that increases a person’s heart rate and makes him or her break a sweat.

“The journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step,” says Dr. Schwamm. “People have to start reaching for exercise as a form of reward rather than a form of deprivation, and stop reaching for food as reward. It’s about transforming the narrative into a heroic narrative. It’s about getting up and doing something good for yourself.”

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This story was first published by MGH Hotline.