Family history of stroke? Slash your risk 66 percent

Has anyone in your family had a stroke? Maybe a parent, grandparent, sister or brother?

Unfortunately, that means you’re more at risk. Especially if your family member had their stroke before the age of 65.

In fact, a 2003 study determined that 86 percent of early strokes (strokes in people under 65) happen to only 11 percent of families.

But as scary as that sounds, it’s possible to counteract your genetic stroke risk.

A new study shows that even if genes put you in the stroke danger zone, healthy living can get you out of it…

Lifestyle makes a bigger difference in stroke risk than genetics

If your genetic risk of stroke keeps you up at night, you’ll be happy to hear that you have more control over your stroke risk than you would’ve guessed…

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in the UK and several other research institutions throughout Germany and Sweden found that lifestyle makes a much bigger difference in whether you have a stroke than genetics.

They looked at genes and lifestyle habits of 306,473 people in the UK between the ages of 40 and 73. They tracked their health for seven years. And here’s what they figured out…

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Bad genes made people 35 percent more likely to have a stroke. But a bad lifestyle made people a whopping 66 percent more likely to have a stroke. That’s a big difference. It basically means you can counteract your genetic risk for stroke — and then some — by following a few healthy lifestyle habits.

What are these stroke-preventing habits? Well, according to this study, here are the four lifestyle habits that make a big dent in your stroke risk…

4 habits that lower stroke risk

In this study, healthy living was measured by four factors:

  • Not smoking
  • Eating lots of fruits, vegetables and fish
  • Keeping your body mass index (BMI) under 30
  • Exercising regularly

There’s nothing crazy or extreme on this list. Just a few common-sense practices for staying healthy. Of course, just because these practices are simple, doesn’t mean they’re easy. If you’re not already doing these things in your life, it can take a while for these changes to become second nature.

But here’s good motivation to stick to it…

If you have a genetic risk for stroke and you practice unhealthy lifestyle habits, you’re knocking at death’s door. Researchers found that genetic risk for stroke combined with a lousy lifestyle cause stroke risk to rise more than two-fold compared to no genetic risk and a healthy lifestyle.

So, even though you can’t control your genes, take control of what you can. Practice healthy lifestyle habits that keep you from following in the footsteps of those unlucky family members that succumbed to a stroke.

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Stroke Awareness — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Family history assessment — American Journal of Preventative Medicine

Stroke Risks — American Stroke Association

A healthy lifestyle cuts stroke risk, irrespective of genetic profile — MedicalXpress

Genetic risk, incident stroke, and the benefits of adhering to a healthy lifestyle: cohort study of 306 473 UK Biobank participants — The BMJ

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and