When Stroke Runs in the Family, A Healthy Lifestyle May Lower Risk

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Adhering to a healthy lifestyle may be particularly important if stroke runs in your family. The latest evidence comes from a study published in The BMJ in 2018 that analyzed data from a large cohort of 306,473 adults, ages 40 to 69, who were followed for an average of seven years. The data included both lifestyle information about the participants and their individual genetic markers for stroke risk.

The researchers judged a healthy lifestyle on the basis of four factors: not smoking; greater consumption of vegetables, fruit, and fish; reduced consumption of processed and red meat; and 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.

As expected, genetic risk played a role. The odds of suffering a stroke were 35 percent greater among people at high genetic risk than among those at low genetic risk. But lifestyle made a bigger difference. The risk of stroke was 66 percent higher among people with an unhealthy lifestyle, compared with those who had a healthy lifestyle.

The study focused on a narrow range of lifestyle factors, and did not take into account the participants’ stress levels, sleep habits, or alcohol and drug use. Still, the results showed that people at increased genetic risk who have an unhealthy lifestyle were more than two times more likely to have a stroke than those with a healthy lifestyle—a very strong argument for making healthy choices, even if you have an inherited risk of stroke.