Sticking to seven healthy habits may almost halve your risk of suffering a stroke, a study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Houston say maintaining a good diet and exercising regularly can even offset any genetic risk.
The other key steps include not smoking and losing weight.
Experts followed 11,500 middle-aged adults in the US for nearly 30 years, watching how their lifestyle impacted their risk of stroke.
Leading a healthy lifestyle could offset a high genetic risk of having a stroke by up to 43 per cent, a University of Texas study claimed today. Graph shows: The risk of having a stroke at some point in people’s lives over time for people following the seven habits (dark green), following some of them (light green) or following few of them (grey)
The habits, devised by the American Heart Association, are dubbed ‘Life’s Simple 7’.
Although listed as seven, there are only four modifiable factors. The other three — maintaining normal blood pressure, controlling cholesterol and reducing blood sugar — are knock-on effects of staying healthy.
Strokes affect more than 100,000 Britons annually claiming 38,000 lives — making it the UK’s fourth biggest killer and a leading cause of disability.
Almost 800,000 people in the US are struck down each year, with 137,000 dying.
Age, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and diabetes are all known to increase the risk of stroke.
Another risk factor is family history of the condition, when a vessel is either blocked or bursts — cutting off blood supply to parts of the brain.
What are ‘Life’s Simple 7’ habits that can reduce your risk of stroke?
- Maintaining a good diet
- Exercising regularly
- Not smoking
- Losing weight
- Maintaining normal blood pressure
- Controlling cholesterol
- Reducing blood sugar
The study, in the Journal of the American Heart Association, tracked 11,568 adults aged 45 to 64 for an average of 28 years.
Participants were given a ‘stroke polygenic risk score’ — based on blood tests that identified mutations linked to the condition. This assessed how likely they were to suffer a stroke in their lifetime based on genetic factors.
Their medical records were also checked to see how well they followed the seven lifestyle habits.
Low cholesterol was scored based on whether and how much lipid lowering drugs — like statins — they were taking.
Blood pressure was also measured by what medications people were on, while blood sugar was scored based on whether they were being treated for diabetes.
Smoking status was recorded, BMIs showed bodyweight, diet was guessed with fruit and vegetable eating and physical activity was measured in minutes per week.
Participants at most genetic risk and the worst heart health had the highest lifetime risk of suffering a stroke, at around 25 percent.
Those with the lowest polygenic risk scores had a lifetime risk of 9.6 per cent. People with an average score had a risk of 13.8 per cent.
But for those who had practiced Life’s Simple 7 it fell by 30 to 43 percent, regardless of their level of genetic risk, analysis shows.
Following the practices also added up to nearly six more years of stroke-free life.
Overall, the healthiest group saw the fewest stroke cases (6 per cent) while the most were in those who followed the habits least (57 per cent).
The findings offer hope of a screening program, according to lead author Professor Myriam Fornage, a geneticist at Texas University in Houston.
She said: ‘Our study confirmed modifying lifestyle risk factors, such as controlling blood pressure, can offset a genetic risk of stroke.
‘We can use genetic information to determine who is at higher risk and encourage them to adopt a healthy cardiovascular lifestyle, such as following the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7, to lower that risk and live a longer, healthier life.’
THE CAUSES OF STROKE
There are two major kinds of stroke:
1. ISCHEMIC STROKE
An ischemic stroke – which accounts for 80 per cent of strokes – occurs when there is a blockage in a blood vessel that prevents blood from reaching part of the brain.
2. HEMORRHAGIC STROKE
The more rare, a hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a blood vessel bursts, flooding part of the brain with too much blood while depriving other areas of adequate blood supply.
It can be the result of an AVM, or arteriovenous malformation (an abnormal cluster of blood vessels), in the brain.
Thirty percent of subarachnoid hemorrhage sufferers die before reaching the hospital. A further 25 per cent die within 24 hours. And 40 per cent of survivors die within a week.
Age, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, family history, and history of a previous stroke or TIA (a mini stroke) are all risk factors for having a stroke.
SYMPTOMS OF A STROKE
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing or blurred vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Of the roughly three out of four people who survive a stroke, many will have life-long disabilities.
This includes difficulty walking, communicating, eating, and completing everyday tasks or chores.
Both are potentially fatal, and patients require surgery or a drug called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) within three hours to save them.