The study, reported in the journal Circulation, tracked 43,685 men and 71,243 women. The average age at the start of the study was 54 for men and 50 for women.
When the study began, none of the participants had cardiovascular disease or cancer.
The participants reported on their lifestyle habits and medical state between 1986 and 2002. Throughout the study, 1,559 strokes occurred in women and 994 strokes occurred in men.
The researchers defined a low-risk lifestyle as:
- Not currently smoking .
- Keeping your weight right. That means a body mass index of less than 25. A BMI of 25-29.9 is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.
- Moderate to vigorous activity for a half-hour or more every day.
- A top diet score, which included components such as a diet low in "bad" fats and rich in vegetables and fruits, lean protein like chicken and fish, fiber, nuts, and legumes.
- Moderate alcohol intake. For women that's up to about one drink a day; for men it's up to two drinks a day.
Women who said they adhered to all five healthy lifestyle habits had a 79% lower risk of total stroke and 81% lower risk of ischemic stroke than those women who followed none of the healthy habits. Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke; it occurs when an artery in the brain becomes blocked.
Men who reported they lived with all five lifestyle factors had a 69% lower risk of total stroke and 80% lower risk of ischemic stroke, compared to those men who said they did not follow any of the five lifestyle factors.
Researcher Stephanie E. Chiuve, ScD, of the Harvard School of Public Health, says in a news release, "More than half of ischemic strokes, 52% in men and 54% in women, may have been prevented through adherence to a healthy lifestyle."
She says, "For total stroke, 47% of cases in the women and 35% of cases in the men may have been prevented."
"This study shows that following a healthy lifestyle, which has been associated with up to 80% lower risk of coronary heart disease and 90% lower risk of diabetes , may also prevent more than half of ischemic strokes," Chiuve says.
In background information published with the findings, the researchers write that stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
They add that nonfatal stroke is a leading cause of "permanent disability and economic loss."
By Kelley Colihan
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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