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Small Lifestyle Changes Can Significantly Cut Stroke Risk

Update Date: Jun 06, 2013 04:36 PM EDT

One small change towards a healthier lifestyle could significantly reduce a person's risk of stroke, according to a new study. 

The study published in the journal Stroke assessed stroke risk by looking at seven health factors: be active, control cholesterol, eat a healthy diet, manage blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, control blood sugar and don't smoke.

"We used the assessment tool to look at stroke risk and found that small differences in health status were associated with large reductions in stroke risk," Dr. Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., senior author and professor of medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington, said in a news release.

For the study, investigators divided the 7 scores into three categories: zero to four points for inadequate, five to nine points for average and 10 to 14 points for optimum cardiovascular health.

Researchers found that every one-point increase toward a better score was linked with an 8 percent lower stroke risk.

They found that people with optimum scores had 48 percent lower stroke risk and those with average scores had a 27 percent lower stroke risk compared with those with inadequate scores.

Researchers also found that a better score was associated with a similar reduced stroke risk in blacks and whites. However, researchers noted that black participants had worse score than white.

"This highlights the critical importance of improving these health factors since blacks have nearly twice the stroke mortality rates as whites," Cushman said.

The latest study involved 22,914 black and white Americans age 45 and older who are participating in a nationwide population-based study called the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS).

Researchers collected data from 2003 to 2007 by telephone, self-administered questionnaires and at-home exams.

Participants were then followed for five years for stroke. 

Researchers said that 432 strokes occurred during the study period.  While all seven factors in the study played an important role in predicting the risk of stroke, the study found that the most important indicator of stroke risk was blood pressure.

"Compared to those with poor blood pressure status, those who were ideal had a 60 percent lower risk of future stroke," Cushman said.

The study also found that people who didn't smoke or quit smoking more than one year before the beginning of the study had a 40 percent lower stroke risk.

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