Even more to be thankful for. Simple changes add up to big-time reduction of stroke risk

In the spirit of the holiday, I thought I’d add a little something to your list of things to be thankful for. According to a new study, a healthy lifestyle is all it takes to cuts a woman’s stroke risk in half.

Sounds great, and it is great.

But a couple of pretty important questions remain: What, exactly, is a healthy lifestyle? And are you ready to embrace one? (Why do I feel like you’re looking nervously toward the kitchen—and thinking about sausage stuffing and mashed potatoes right now?)

People sit across the desk from me all day long complaining about how difficult it is to make the right decisions about the food they eat, the time it takes to exercise, etc. I’ve heard it all.

But among my healthiest patients, there’s a common thread. No complaining. Just commitment. To consistently do what’s best for their health. No “if”s, “and”s, or “but”s.

But I digress. Let’s take a closer look at this new study, so you can see just how powerful that sort of commitment can be.

The researchers found that the more aspects of a healthy lifestyle a woman adopts, the lower her risk of stroke. The researchers looked at lifestyle factors like diet, alcohol consumption, smoking, physical activity, and body weight.

Each of the healthy lifestyle habits was associated with some level of reduced stroke risk. For instance, physical activity alone lowered risk by 9 percent. But women who practiced all these healthy habits reduced their risk of having a stroke by 50 percent.

Here’s another interesting part: these findings didn’t change when the researchers adjusted for confounding factors (like diabetes, atrial fibrillation, age, history of hypertension, or other conditions that might pre-dispose someone to a higher risk of stroke). This means you can still dramatically slash your stroke risk—even if you already have other risk factors, as long as you start adopting healthier lifestyle behaviors.

In other words, you’re not relegated to genetics and it’s never “too late.” Despite your family history and risk profile, you can make positive changes to turn the situation around.

I lost my mother to a stroke, and this is something I wish I could have shared with her.

It’s such a simple, powerful message. You can cut your chances of having a stroke in HALF—just by making healthier choices. So why wouldn’t you?

Take one of my patients, for example. I’ll call her Anne. For years, she could never “find the time” to exercise. But about four months ago, she stopped making excuses and made a commitment to bike from the train station to her office and back each day. Since then, she’s shed 20 pounds. But she’s gained a whole new perspective on what living a healthy lifestyle really means. And how good it feels.

If you ask me, that’s truly something to be thankful for.