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Even A Small Change In Habits Helps Fend Off Stroke

Your brain will appreciate even a modest improvement in stroke risk factors.
Your brain will appreciate even a modest improvement in stroke risk factors.

This is not one of those posts that is going to beat you up for doing a crummy job exercising, eating better and all the other things you're failing to do to ward off death.

Instead, this post is here to say that if you improve one thing just one teeny bit, it's going to lower your risk of having a stroke. So pick something, and stick to it.

Stroke, which happens when a blood vessel bursts or is blocked in the brain, is a leading cause of death and disability.

Scientists looked at seven factors known to affect stroke risk: cigarette smoking, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, physical activity and diet.

Most Americans aren't doing so well on these. And most of us, knowing we're supposed to be doing better on them all, just sigh and reach for the remote.

So the scientists dug into a large study that tracked 30,239 people to see how much improvement it takes to prevent stroke. The people were all over age 45 at the start, and the study lasted from 2003 to 2007.

The good news is it doesn't take much to make a difference. Each risk factor for stroke was scored from 0 to 2, with 0 being crummy, 1 kind of OK, and 2 terrific. Even a one-point improvement in the total score across all seven factors significantly reduced stroke risk. Each improvement of a point on the 14-point scale meant an 8 percent reduction in stroke.

"The neat thing of this finding is that anything makes a difference," says Daniel Lackland, a professor of neuroscience at the Medical University of South Carolina and a spokesman for the American Heart Association, which came up with the Life's Simple Seven scale.

"If you make a small change, you make an improvement." Lackland says. "If you make a bigger change, you make a bigger improvement."

If he were going to pick which of those seven to tackle first, Lackland says he would pick blood pressure, because that shows the greatest risk reduction. "Every 20 millimeters of systolic that you lower from wherever you are, you lower your risk of stroke by 50 percent. That's what this study is confirming."

For many people, just being consistent about taking blood pressure medication would do that, Lackland told Shots.

The study, done by scientists at the University of Vermont, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Emory University, and The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, was published in the journal Stroke.

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