Healthy Midlife Choices May Reduce Risk of Stroke in Women

  • Ischemic stroke
  • Stroke

A study published in Stroke shows better eating habits, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and not smoking beginning at midlife may still significantly reduce stroke risk. 

During the 26-year follow-up, researchers found:
•    smoking cessation, daily exercise, and weight loss was estimated to reduce the risk of total stroke by 25% and ischemic stroke by 36%.
•    sustained dietary modifications were estimated to reduce the risk of total stroke by 23%.
•    4.7% of women with no lifestyle interventions had a stroke of any type; 2.4% had ischemic stroke; and .7% had hemorrhagic stroke.

Researchers also found that increasing fish and nut consumption and reducing unprocessed red meat consumption appeared to have positive impacts on reducing stroke risk. However, the degree of impact from these dietary changes was not as big as those achieved through increased physical activity, smoking cessation and maintaining a healthy weight.

Women are more likely to have a stroke, die from a stroke, and have poorer health, and physical function after a stroke compared with men. First stroke in women occurs at an average age of 75 years, andit is theorized making midlife lifestyle changes might help reduce the risk of stroke.

“We found that changing to a healthy lifestyle, even in your 50s, still has the potential to prevent strokes,” said Goodarz Danaei, ScD, lead study author and Bernard Lown associate professor of cardiovascular health at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “Women who made lifestyle modifications in middle age reduced their long-term total risk of stroke by nearly a quarter and ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, by more than 1/3.”

The Nurses’ Health Study, included health information from nearly 60,000 women who enrolled at average age of 52 and were followed for an average of 26 years. Researchers studied how smoking cessation, exercising 30 minutes or more daily, and gradual weight loss for those who were overweight, affected stroke risk. The researchers also studied the effect of making recommended dietary modifications that emphasize eating more fish, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, less red meat, no processed meat, and less alcohol.

Although this was an observational study that included mostly white middle-aged women, Danaei said, “there are other studies to support that the proportional changes in stroke risk from lifestyle and dietary modifications may be generalizable to men. We also estimate that exercising 30 minutes or more daily may reduce the risk of stroke by 20%.”

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