April 9 (UPI) -- Women well into middle age can still reduce their risk for stroke by eating well, exercising and not smoking, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Stroke.
Simply by getting healthier, researchers say women's risk for stroke drops by 25 percent, according to the analysis of data on 60,000 women in their 50s, 60s and 70s.
Dietary modifications were found to reduce stroke risk by as much as 23 percent, the researchers added.
"We found that changing to a healthy lifestyle, even in your 50s, still has the potential to prevent strokes," study co-author Goodarz Danaei, an associate professor of cardiovascular health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, said in a press release. "Women who made lifestyle modifications in middle age reduced their long-term risk of total stroke by nearly a quarter and ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, by more than one-third."
In general, women are more likely than men to have a stroke, die from stroke and have poorer health and physical function after a stroke, according to the American Stroke Association. On average, women have their first stroke at 75 years of age.
Based on that, Danaei and his team theorized that making mid-life lifestyle changes might help reduce stroke risk among women. They analyzed the Nurses' Health Study, which includes health information on nearly 60,000 women who enrolled, on average, at 52 years of age, and were followed for an average of 26 years.
The researchers focused on the impact of smoking cessation, exercising 30 minutes or more daily and gradual weight loss for women who were overweight. They also studied the impact of making recommended dietary modifications that emphasize eating more fish, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, as well as less red meat, no processed meat and less alcohol.
They found that 4.7 percent of women who made no lifestyle interventions had a stroke of any type, with 2.4 percent having an ischemic stroke and 0.7 percent having a hemorrhagic stroke. However, engaging in the three non-dietary interventions -- quitting smoking, daily exercise and weight loss -- was estimated to reduce the risk of stroke overall by 25 percent and ischemic stroke by 36 percent.
In addition, sustained dietary changes reduced the risk of total stroke by 23 percent.
Researchers also found that increasing fish and nut consumption and reducing unprocessed red meat consumption appeared to have positive impacts on reducing stroke risk. The degree of impact from these dietary changes, however, was not as big as those achieved through increased physical activity, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.
"We also estimate that exercising 30 minutes or more daily may reduce the risk of stroke by 20 percent," Danaei said.