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Healthy Lifestyle Lowers Stroke Risk in Women by Half

First Posted: Oct 09, 2014 03:25 AM EDT

Women can cut the risk of stroke by more than half by adhering to a healthy diet and lifestyle, a new study reveals.

Stroke is now emerging as a major health risk for women. It is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the fourth leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the United States. It is estimated that each year nearly 795,000 Americans have a stroke; out of which 60,000 are women.

The latest report - produced by researchers at Karolinska Instituet in Stockholm, Sweden, who followed 31,696 Swedish women, of an average age of 60 years - found that healthy diet and lifestyle reduced the risk of stroke by half in women.

The researchers mainly focused on five factors that constitute a healthy lifestyle mainly: 'healthy diet', 'moderate intake of alcohol', 'never smoking', 'physically active' and 'healthy body mass index (BMI)'. On comparing women with absolutely none of the five healthy factors, women with all the five factors had a 54 percent lower risk of stroke. The risk of stroke further dropped with an additional healthy lifestyle factor.

As part of the study, the participants were made to complete 350 item questionnaire that included questions related to diet and lifestyle. They were followed for an average of 10 years.

They defined healthy diet as that within the top 50 percent of a recommended food score measuring how often they ate healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Moderate consumption of alcohol was defined as 3-9 drinks per week. Being physically active was defined as walking or biking for at least 40 minutes a day combined with vigorous exercise for an hour per week. Healthy BMI was considered below 25.

Most of the women had 2-3 healthy factors, just 589 women had all five healthy factors and 1,525 had none. Among all the participants 1,554 had a stroke.

"Because the consequences of stroke are usually devastating and irreversible, prevention is of great importance," said study author Susanna C. Larsson, PhD, of the Karolinska Instituet in Stockholm, Sweden. "These results are exciting because they indicate that a healthy diet and lifestyle can substantially reduce the risk of stroke, and these are lifestyle choices that people can make or improve."

Women with healthier diet were 13 percent less likely to suffer from a type of stroke called cerebral infraction when compared to those following an unhealthy diet. Also, with healthy diet women had a rate of 28 strokes per 10,000 women per year as compared to 43 strokes per 10,000 women per year. However, there was no link between healthy factors and the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.

The study was documented in the Neurology, the journal of American Academy of Neurology.

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