Women who are non-smokers, exercise regularly, have a healthy diet, including moderate alcohol consumption, and otherwise live a healthy lifestyle may have a reduced risk of stroke, according to a recent report.
There are two main types of stroke: ischemic, the more common type, in which a blocked artery causes a lack of blood flow to the brain; and hemorrhagic, which occurs when a ruptured blood vessel causes blood to leak into the brain. Several individual risk factors, including smoking, exercise and body mass index (BMI), have been linked to stroke. However, researchers have not previously examined how the combination of these behaviors may contribute to stroke.
The researchers studied the association between healthy lifestyles and stroke risk in 37,636 women age 45 years or older. At the beginning of the study, in 1993, the women answered questions about their smoking habits, alcohol consumption, diet, exercise routine and body mass index. From their responses, the researchers gave each woman a health index score that ranged from zero to 20, with a higher score indicating a healthier lifestyle. Healthy behaviour was defined as never smoking, consuming four to 10.5 alcoholic drinks per week, exercising four or more times per week, having a body mass index of less than 22 and maintaining a healthy diet. This included consuming high levels of cereal fibre, folate and omega-3 fatty acids, a high ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fat and low levels of trans fat and glycemic load.
During an average of 10 years of follow-up, 450 women had strokes; 356 were ischemic, 90 were hemorrhagic and four were undefined. The 4.7% of women with 17 to 20 health index points had a significantly lower risk of stroke overall and of ischemic stroke specifically than women with zero to four health index points. This association remained significant even when the researchers considered some of the common consequences of unhealthy lifestyles, including high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
Source: Kurth T et al. Healthy Lifestyle and the Risk of Stroke in Women.Arch Intern Med 2006;166:1403-9.