A stroke can be a life-changing event that can come with serious long-term consequences for you and your family’s health. While age makes us more susceptible to having a stroke, so does having a mother, father, or other close relative who has had a stroke. Although we can’t travel back in time to change our age or our family history, we can reduce our stroke risk by half by being aware of the stroke risk factors we can control, according to a recent study published in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"Because the consequences of stroke are usually devastating and irreversible, prevention is of great importance," said Susanna C. Larsson, study author from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, in the press release. Not every stroke may be preventable, but there are known preventable risk factors that can be modified by adopting lifestyle habits. A healthy lifestyle plays a major role in decreasing your risk for disability and death from stroke, and even a heart attack.

Larsson and her colleagues at the Karolinska Institutet sought to assess stroke risk by analyzing the diet and lifestyle of over 31,000 Swedish women with an average age of about 60 in a 350-item questionnaire about their lifestyle habits. The study looked at five factors that make up a healthy lifestyle: healthy diet; moderate alcohol consumption; never smoking; physical activity; and healthy body mass index (BMI). The large cohort of women were then followed for an average of 10 years.

In the study, a healthy diet was defined as within the top 50 percent of a recommended food score measuring how often the participants ate healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Moderate alcohol consumption was defined as three to nine drinks per week. Physical activity was defined as walking or biking for a minimum of 40 minutes a day, accompanied with more vigorous exercise at least one hour per week. Participants who had BMIs below 25 were considered healthy.

The findings revealed most of the women had two or three of the healthy factors associated with stroke prevention. A total of 589 women had all five healthy factors while about 1,500 had none. There were 1,554 strokes among the participants during the 10-year study period.

The researchers observed an encouraging pattern that showed stroke risk steadily declined with each additional healthy lifestyle factor. Statistics showed women were 13 percent less likely to have a cerebral infarction — a blockage in a blood vessel preventing blood and oxygen from getting to the brain — than those who did not follow a healthy diet. Those with healthier diets had a rate of 28 strokes per 10,000 women per year compared to 43 strokes per 10,000 from their counterparts.

"These results are exciting because they indicate that a healthy diet and lifestyle can substantially reduce the risk of stroke, and these are lifestyle choices that people can make or improve,” Larsson said. The researchers were not able to find an association between the healthy factors and the risk of hemorrhagic stroke — caused by bleeding in and around the brain. This type of stroke accounts for approximately 15 to 20 percent of all strokes.

In a similar study published in the journal Stroke, a team of researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y., found older women who eat foods with higher amounts of potassium may face a lower stroke risk and death than those who consume less of these foods. These benefits are greater among older women who do not have high blood pressure. Unfortunately, older American women do not eat the recommended amounts of potassium from foods, which is at least 4,700 milligrams, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With approximately 425,000 or 55,000 more women than men expected to have a stroke this year, it’s important to know some of the controllable causes of stroke and to learn how to control them. To keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, adopt these four lifestyle habits to cut your stroke risk in half:

1. Lower Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can double or even quadruple your stroke risk if it is not monitored. It is the biggest contributor to stroke risk in both men and women. According to the June 2013 issue of Harvard’s Women Health Watch, maintain a blood pressure of less than 120 (top number) over less than 80 (bottom number). This can be achieved by reducing salt intake and following a healthy diet.

2. Exercise More

Exercise can help lower blood pressure and even reduce stroke risk on its own. A 2012 study published in the journal Stroke found exercising at least four times a week lessened the likelihood of experiencing a stroke or a mini-stroke. The relationship was seen only in men who exercised four or more times a week.

3. Drink In Moderation

Drinking at least one glass of alcohol a day seems like something most of us can be on board with. "Studies show that if you have about one drink per day, your risk may be lower," said Dr. Natalia Rost, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and associate director of the Acute Stroke Service at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Harvard’s Women Health Watch. "Once you start drinking more than two drinks per day, your risk goes up very sharply."

4. Take A Baby Aspirin

The American Heart Association recommends people at high risk of heart attack take a daily low-dose aspirin, and heart attack survivors should regularly take low-dose aspirin. Aspirin “thins” the blood and helps prevent blood clots from forming. This prevents heart attack and stroke.