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Study finds people at high risk for stroke can lower their chances with good lifestyle choices

Doctor views the output of a CT scan.
Doctor views the output of a CT scan.

Stroke is the second leading cause of death and a major cause of disability and dementia worldwide. But a new study found those at high genetic risk for stroke could reduce their chances through better lifestyle choices. KERA’s Sam Baker talked about some recommendations from the American Heart Association with Dr. Ryan Cheung of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano.


About the study

The study determined individuals with a higher polygenic risk for stroke based on their genetic factors, things such as ancestry and race are at higher risk for stroke. But they can use the American Heart Association's recommended Simple 7 ), to actually lower their stroke risk. So even though they carry a baseline higher risk for stroke than the general population, they can do things to improve their health. 

Are most strokes the result of genetic risk factors, bad habits, or both?

Most likely both. One of the takeaways for me from this article was that even though there are many things that are out of our control, there are still many things we can do to lead healthier lives and reduce our stroke risk, even if we are predisposed based on our genetics. These simple seven things are many of the things that we grew up with and many of the things that our doctors educate and counsel us on. And these things can improve our health not only from a stroke risk standpoint but also for cardiovascular and general health. 

The Simple 7

One is to stop smoking.

Avoiding all inhaled sources has shown benefits. Nicotine and a lot of the associated chemicals have been proven as carcinogens and have a lot of pro-inflammatory effects on the body. 

Number two, eating a better diet.

A lot of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, chicken or fish, a diet high in nuts and seeds, and cooking with non-tropical oils such as olive oil and avocado oils. One of the diets that are actually recommended is the Mediterranean diet and this encompasses those things that we talked about. 

Three. Carrying out activities. 

At least 30 minutes a day for five days a week of moderate-intensity exercise. It can be done on your own without a lot of equipment. It typically involves moving the large extremities and repetitive motions. So, things like jogging, running, swimming, bicycling.

Four. Managing Your Blood Pressure. 

One of the interesting things about this study is they found by looking at blood pressure alone, was the single strongest way to reduce your lifetime risk of stroke. This is something that patients can work with their primary care physicians to monitor their blood pressure at home within the clinic, using their own blood pressure cuffs and through a variety of medications if needed. By targeting a lot of these other lifestyle choices, things like managing weight and through diet, and even other things like sleep and physical activity, individuals can also lower their blood pressure.

Two other Simple 7 steps are controlling cholesterol and reducing blood sugar. But the American Heart Association has added sleep to what is now the Essential Eight?

They recommend at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night. And doing this can also have benefits to blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, and improving mental health. 

Sleep has properties within the body to restore and recover from the daytime hours. There are a lot of things at a cellular level that happen during sleep that help keep the body in check. 

Is following what’s now eight steps guaranteed to avoid stroke? 

None of these things are guaranteed to reduce stroke. These things have been shown to reduce your risk of lifetime stroke. The average person in the study, at the age of 45, had a median lifetime risk of stroke of around 20 to 25%. By following these steps, they showed that you could reduce that stroke risk by 30 to 40%. 


JAHA Simple 7 Study

Study: High heart health may offset increased genetic of stroke risk

About Stroke

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.