Simple lifestyle changes like eating healthy and staying active help significantly reduce blood pressure in stroke survivors, according to a recent analysis published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.
This study, which pooled data from past clinical trials, assessed the impact of lifestyle changes on patients with a history of stroke. Stroke is a leading cause of death. Stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is stopped or significantly reduced. Since patients with a history of stroke have significantly increased risk for future heart events, addressing cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure and smoking is a must. But few studies have assessed the long-term benefits of these changes among stroke survivors. Experts wonder if lifestyle changes like exercise help improve cardiovascular risk factors and reduce risk for heart events and death.
To learn more, researchers analyzed data from 22 clinical trials that assessed the effect of lifestyle and/or fitness interventions among stroke survivors. Lifestyle programs helped patients address factors like diet and stress, while exercise programs focused on increasing physical activity.
Study participants had a history of either ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot in the brain, or transient ischemic attack (TIA), often referred to as a “mini-stroke.” TIAs only last a short time and don’t cause as much permanent injury to the brain as ischemic stroke. However, both types of stroke increase risk for future heart events, highlighting the importance of therapy and lifestyle changes.
After analysis, researchers found that lifestyle and/or exercise interventions helped patients reduce systolic blood pressure by 3.6 mmHg. Among all interventions, those that included fitness, used more than three behavior-change techniques, or lasted longer than 4 months were most effective in reducing blood pressure.
The bad news is that the interventions made no difference on patients’ future risk of heart events or death. However, it’s important to note that most studies only followed patients for about five months. As authors explain, the trials were likely too short to detect any long-term benefits of lifestyle interventions, such as reduced mortality risk.
Based on findings, authors conclude that lifestyle and exercise interventions appear to significantly reduce blood pressure in stroke survivors. Findings also suggest that increasing physical activity is the most effective way for patients with a history of stroke to reduce blood pressure.
Since high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for stroke, simple lifestyle changes could ultimately have a big impact on outcomes. However, authors explain that larger trials are needed to assess the long-term impact of these changes on risk for future heart events. In the meantime, it’s important that patients with a history of stroke work closely with their doctors to address any risk factors they may have to help prevent future heart events.