September 2020

Women: Midlife Isn’t Too Late to Slash Stroke Risk

Ask women their health fears, and breast cancer often tops the list. But twice as many will eventually succumb to stroke. Each year, more women than men die of stroke. What’s more, strokes are the leading cause of preventable disability in the U.S.

The good news? Four in 5 strokes can be prevented. And a new study suggests that even if you start in midlife, you can still make a big impact.

Measurable ways to change your life

Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked. Starved of oxygen, brain cells die off within minutes, possibly leaving you debilitated—or worse.  

To study stroke prevention, researchers used data from a large study of nearly 60,000 women. Starting when they were an average age of 52, participants answered a set of questions about diet, exercise, and other behaviors every few years.     

Over 26 years of follow-up, the women’s risk of having a stroke was 4.7%. However, if they made a few lifestyle adjustments, their risk declined by one-fourth, to 3.5%.

Your blueprint for better health

The women’s secrets to stroke-prevention success came from these combined strategies:

  • Not smoking

  • Exercising 30 minutes or more per day

  • Gradually losing weight (if they needed to)

  • Eating a healthy diet

What did an anti-stroke diet look like? Daily, they’d consume:

  • 5o r more servings of fruits and vegetables

  • 1 or more servings of nuts

  • 2 or more servings of whole grains

  • 5 to 15 grams—about one standard drink or less—of alcohol           

And each week, they had:

  • 3 or more servings of fish

  • 3 or fewer servings of red meat

  • No processed meat

These switches are simple—but lifestyle change isn’t always easy. Start by assessing where your behavior is now. Then, create an action plan of small steps to get started. Your healthcare provider can serve as a guide through this process.



Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2020
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