Auburn University professor stresses importance of exercise, particularly among African American community, amid Stroke Awareness Month

Published: May 15, 2018
Updated: May 21, 2018
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With May being Stroke Awareness Month, Auburn University Professor Michael Brown says it’s a great time to focus on healthy practices that can be key in saving one’s life.

“Stroke is one of our nation’s leading killers, and is closely linked with high blood pressure, or hypertension,” he said. “Diet and exercise can play a major role in lowering blood pressure, thereby reducing many of the harmful effects of hypertension.”

Brown, who specializes in the field of hypertension and vascular health in African Americans, stresses the importance of exercise as a preventive and treatment strategy for hypertension, which is the leading cause of stroke. Brown’s research interests have focused on effects of exercise on hypertension in African Americans; racial differences in systemic and vascular inflammation and responses to exercise; modalities to improve vascular health in African Americans; effects of shear stress on endothelial cells; and effects of combined exercise and probiotics on blood pressure, vascular function, and the gut microbiota in African Americans.

“In our Hypertension and Vascular Health Lab in the School of Kinesiology, we use complementary human and cell models to address research questions. Specifically, we focus on elucidating the mechanisms by which changes in lifestyle factors lead to beneficial changes in both conventional and non-conventional cardiovascular disease risk factors,” Brown said.

“We focus primarily, but not exclusively, on African Americans as their morbidity and mortality rates from cardiovascular disease, particularly hypertension, exceed other U.S. populations. Our goal is to provide preventive and therapeutic strategies by using a combination of cell/molecular biology, human intervention and community involvement research,” he said.

According to the National Stroke Association, African Americans are more susceptible to stroke than any other racial group within the American population, being twice as likely to die from stroke as Caucasians. Strokes in this population tend to occur earlier in life. One in three African Americans suffer from high blood pressure. When looking at all groups, the National Stroke Association states that nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year, with about three in four being first-time strokes. Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 130,000 people a year. That's one in every 20 deaths.

The United Health Foundation found that in 2017, 5.2 percent of women in Alabama had suffered a stroke and 4 percent of men had done so compared to 3.2 percent of women and 3.1 percent of men nationwide.

As stroke awareness is in the forefront this month, health professionals are stressing recognition of the acronym FAST, which provides details to look for in a stroke and how to act: Face drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulty; Time to call 911. A key cause of stroke is having high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Hypertension is the most significant controllable risk factor for stroke. The successful treatment of high blood pressure, officials say, is now leading to a decline in the number of stroke deaths.

“Awareness is important, as it leads to habits and activities that can prevent the incidence of strokes in all of our citizens, including African Americans,” Brown said. “Our research is far-reaching as we look for ways to relax blood vessels, thereby reducing hypertension, but a combination of exercise and proper diet are important first steps in stroke prevention.”

In addition to not smoking and improving your diet, physical activity is critical to stroke prevention. Lack of exercise increases the risk of stroke and high blood pressure. Dr. Brown says you should get at least 30 minutes of activity most days, and that can involve simple changes like taking the stairs instead of using an elevator.

If you would like to contact Brown for a more in-depth interview, he can be reached by email at mdb0075@auburn.edu or by phone at 334-844-1982. For background on Brown, here is a link to his widely recognized scholarly activity. If you are a member of the LTN network and wish to set up a live interview with Brown, please contact Auburn University Director of Communications Preston Sparks at pjs0027@auburn.edu or at 334-844-9976.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 29,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.