Making small lifestyle changes could reduce one’s risk for having a stroke, according to a study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

The study included 22,914 black and white Americans older than 45 years who participated in a population-based study called the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke. The researchers collected data from 2003-2007 by telephone, self-administered questionnaires and at-home exams, and participants were followed for 5 years. Many of the study participants lived in the Southwest region of the United States, where death rates associated with stroke is highest.

The researchers assessed stroke risk using the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 health factors: be active, control cholesterol, eat a healthy diet, manage blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, control blood sugar and don’t smoke. The Life’s Simple scores were divided into three categories: zero to four points for inadequate, five to nine points for average and 10 to 14 points for optimum cardiovascular health.

During the study, 432 strokes occurred. The researchers determined that all seven factors played a role in predicting the risk for stroke, but blood pressure was the most important indicator.

“Compared to those with poor blood pressure status, those who were ideal had a 60% lower risk of future stroke,” Mary Cushman, MD, MSc, senior author and professor of medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington, stated in a news release.

The researchers also found that every one-point increase toward a better score was associated with an 8% lower stroke risk, and participants with optimum scores had a 48% lower stroke risk than those with inadequate scores. They also determined that participants who didn’t smoke or quit smoking more than 1 year before the beginning of the study had a 40% lower stroke risk compared with those who smoked.

For more information:

Cushman M. Stroke. 2013. doi: 10.1161/strokeaha.111.000352.

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