Lifestyle Measures to Reduce the Risk of Stroke

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Results from two recent studies provide more evidence that a healthful diet and exercise can reduce the risk of stroke-and more.

  • Women who most closely follow a Mediterranean-style diet have a markedly reduced risk of strokes and heart attacks, according to an analysis from the well-known Women’s Health Study, which was published in JAMA Network Openin December.

    After having their diets scored for how close they were to the traditional Mediterranean eating pattern, nearly 26,000 American women (average age 54) were followed for 12 years. Those who had high Mediterranean diet scores were about one-quarter less likely to have a stroke or heart attack than those with low scores. Even women with medium scores were at reduced risk.

    After further analysis of cardiovascular disease risk factors and biomarkers, the researchers attributed the lower risk largely to a reduction in inflammation and improvements in blood sugar control, body weight, blood pressure, and HDL (good) cholesterol. The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and fish; low in processed and red meat; and moderate in alcohol.

  • Staying physically active not only reduces the risk of having a stroke, it may reduce the severity of a stroke if you have one, according to a recent study in Neurology.

    Researchers looked at 925 people (average age 73) who had been hospitalized for strokes and who reported their pre-stroke activity levels. About half had been physically active, though almost none had exercised vigorously. Those who reported light physical activity (defined as walking at least four hours a week) or moderate activity (swimming, brisk walking, or running at least two hours a week) were twice as likely to have had a mild (not severe) stroke as their inactive counterparts.

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