Heart-healthy living linked to lower stroke risk

A woman runs after a young child as they laugh playing outside.

A heart-healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk of stroke by 30-43%, according to research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Adults who had a stroke were also more likely to experience the event 5-6 years later if they had stronger indicators of cardiovascular health. 

Optimal heart health, such as keeping blood pressure and blood sugar in a normal range, has long been associated with reduced risks for stroke. However, researchers weren't sure how much a heart-healthy lifestyle could offset inherited risks. Therefore, they assessed how seven measures of cardiovascular health, which also included avoiding tobacco, eating a heart-healthy diet, and staying active, overlapped with the timing and incidence of stroke among adults with varying genetic risks. 

After partnering with more than 11,000 adults through the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, researchers found about 1 in 10 adults experienced a stroke. Among these adults, those with higher genetic risks, based on a polygenic risk score, but optimal cardiovascular health lived to about age 72 before their first stroke. This fell to about age 66 for adults with higher genetic and cardiovascular risks. Similar patterns emerged among adults with lower genetic risks. Adults with lower genetic risks but optimal cardiovascular health lived to about age 74 before their first stroke. Those with lower genetic but increased cardiovascular risks had 68 stroke-free years.

The authors shared that future translational aspects of this research may be especially helpful for younger adults with higher genetic risks, who may be motivated to take steps early in life to mitigate risks for stroke. The study was supported by NHLBI, the National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Center for Research Resources, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.