Health & Wellness

Better Late Than Never

Even in middle age, the right lifestyle choices can reduce women’s stroke risk


Women who make lifestyle changes beginning in middle age can still significantly reduce their chances of having stroke in the future, according to new research.

The findings, published in Stroke, the journal of the American Stroke Association, were based on the health records of almost 60,000 women enrolled the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-term project; participants were followed for an average of 26 years. Most were in their early 50s upon joining.

“We found that changing to a healthy lifestyle, even in your 50s, still has the potential to prevent strokes,” said Goodarz Danaei, lead author and a professor of cardiovascular health at Boston’s Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Women who made lifestyle modifications in middle age reduced their long-term risk for total stroke by nearly a quarter and ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, by more than one-third.”

Those lifestyle changes included exercising more, eating better, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking. Sustained changes to diet were found to reduce the risk for total stroke by 23%, while exercising 30 minutes or more daily reduced stroke risk by 20%. Researchers also found women who ate more fish and nuts while eating less red meat were less likely to suffer a stroke.

Women tend to see higher rates of stroke than men, to die more often from strokes, and to experience poorer health after recovering from a stroke. The average woman experiences her first stroke at the age of 75. The study didn’t include men, but Danaei said, “There are other studies to support that the proportional changes in stroke risk from lifestyle and dietary modifications may be generalizable to men.”

Photo: iStock/dragana991.