It's been well documented that high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and smoking increase your likelihood of suffering a stroke. But a large new study hammers home that stress also has a huge impact on stroke risk — regardless of physical risk factors and unhealthy lifestyle choices.
A study of more than 6,700 adults over 11 years found that people with chronic stress were 59 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who didn't experience much anxiety in their lives. But the most alarming aspect of these findings is that the researchers controlled for age and other risk factors like diabetes and excess weight. Translation: Even if you're in fantastic physical shape and you eat right, if you're regularly stressed out, then you're still in danger of suffering a stroke.
"We were surprised that traditional risk factors [like smoking, diabetes, or high blood pressure] didn't play much of a role in stroke risk," says Susan Everson-Rose, lead study author and a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. "However, since we controlled for all of these factors, they didn't explain away the link. That means the real pathway of how stress impacts stroke risk is yet to be determined."
Everson-Rose also isn't sure whether stress is as significant of a risk factor — or if it's possibly an even greater one — than high blood pressure, obesity, and the other usual suspects. "We didn't make a head-to-head comparison," she says. But the sheer fact that the connection exists makes it extra important to get your stress levels in check. "Though we all experience stress, it's no reason to let it build," says Everson-Rose. "Finding out the best coping strategy for you is important."