The benefits of eating a balanced diet, working out and minimizing poor health habits like smoking are so well-known that they aren't considered "newsworthy." But research published in the journal "Neurology" highlights just how powerfully positive these interventions can be when it comes to preventing the fourth leading cause of death among American adults: stroke.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, found that women who adopted five simple lifestyle behaviors saw a 54 percent drop in their risk for experiencing any kind of stroke, and a 64 percent decrease in their risk for cerebral infarction—a type of ischemic stroke caused by a blocked blood vessel to the brain. Cerebral infarctions are by far the most common types of strokes.

Analysts compared the self-reported lifestyle habits of nearly 32,000 Swedish women with an average age of 60. Shockingly, only 589 of these women were able to adhere to risk-reducing health habits.

5 Risk-Reducing Health Habits

  1. Eating healthy: A healthy diet involves consuming more fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, and little or no red meat, processed meat, full-fat dairy, sugary foods, baked goods, white flour-based foods or fried starches. Learn about the Benefits of Mediterranean Diet Foods.
  2. Working out regularly: Forty or more minutes per day of moderate physical activity, combined with an hour or more per week of intense activity is the exercise ideal. Discover 6 Fun Activities that Count as Exercise.
  3. Abstaining from smoking: People who've never smoked are the best-off.
  4. Drinking moderately: Three to nine alcoholic drinks per week is the acceptable range for moderate consumption.
  5. Building a better body: A Body Mass Index (BMI) below 25 is the goal.

"Because the consequences of stroke are usually devastating and irreversible, primary prevention is of great importance," remarks lead study author Susanna Larsson, Ph.D., a researcher at the Karolinska Institutet, whose previous research studies found that moderate chocolate and coffee consumption could also slash stroke risk.

Why you should care

In addition to a top-five ranking on the list of leading causes of death, strokes are also the primary cause of long-term disability among Americans. Depending on where in the brain a stroke strikes, a survivor may be left with partial paralysis, irreversible memory loss, vision problems, and speech/language issues. There are also several other unexpected stroke side effects that can dramatically alter an individual's behavior and energy levels.

The good news is that your risk of encountering these catastrophic consequences can be significantly reduced by following the aforementioned lifestyle guidelines. "Because the consequences of stroke are usually devastating and irreversible, prevention is of great importance," says study author Susanna Larson, Ph.D., of the Karolinska Instituet. Even adhering to just one of the steps—healthy eating, for instance—may reduce stroke risk by as much as 13 percent.

So, while you may not have the time or energy to tackle all five healthy behaviors at once, it's important to keep in mind that even seemingly small steps can have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing.