Reduce Your Stroke Risk With These 7 Tips

But among all genetic risk profiles — low and high — those who followed Life’s Simple 7 had a 30 to 43 percent lower risk of stroke than those who didn’t follow the behaviors. That equates to almost six additional stroke-free years.

“This study shows that you can achieve an amazing amount of risk reduction through a healthy lifestyle, regardless of your genetic status,” says Cheryl Bushnell, MD, a neurologist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study . “That really is the bottom line.”

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Research shows that lowering your risk of stroke may also have additional health benefits. For example, it may help protect your brain, since stroke is one of the top known risk factors for dementia, according to a report by AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health.

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“When you adopt these healthy cardiovascular behaviors,” says Fornage, “you’re essentially preserving your brain health and you’re doing your heart some good, too.”

Nationwide, about 10 percent of the population over the age of 50, or 7.6 million people, have experienced a stroke at some point in their lives, Bushnell says, citing statistics from the AHA’s annual Heart Disease and Stroke Report. But the risk, she notes, increases “dramatically” with age: 2.5 percent of adults ages 40 to 59 have had a stroke, versus 6 percent of those ages 60 to 79 and 13 percent of those over 80 year olds.

How many people are genetically at risk of stroke “is hard to say,” Bushnell says, adding that researchers have identified 32 different genes that are linked to stroke.

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“But the interesting thing is that most of them are related in some way to other factors like blood pressure or cholesterol,” she says. In other words, lifestyle plays a role in triggering a stroke, even in those with a genetic predisposition.

The harmful effects of a stroke

However a stroke occurs, it can have dramatic consequences. “It’s often a long-term disability, but it can also be fatal,” says Fornage.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. What goes wrong depends on the type of stroke and what part of the brain is affected, Bushnell says.

Sometimes a stroke affects vision or leaves a person with tingling or weakness. After a stroke, some people have trouble swallowing or develop a frozen shoulder or stiffness and spasms in a weak limb. “It’s not something that anyone wants to deal with long-term,” she adds.

And that first stroke can cause further complications because the person is often less active now, which can lead to infection, heart disease, and more blood clots. “A stroke is a life-changing event,” says Bushnell.

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