What steps can you take to avoid a stroke? Having a mother, father, or other close relative who has had a stroke makes us more susceptible to having one.
Although you can’t turn back the clock or change your family history, you can control many other stroke risk factors if you’re aware of them. Power comes from knowledge. You can take actions to mitigate the impact of a risk factor that is damaging your health and predisposing you to a higher risk of stroke if you are aware of it.
How to avoid a stroke
Here are seven strategies to start reducing your risk of stroke today, before it happens.
1. Reduce your blood pressure
If your blood pressure isn’t under control, it can double or even quadruple your risk of stroke. In both men and women, high blood pressure is the most common cause of stroke. The most significant change people can make in their vascular health is to monitor their blood pressure and, if it is elevated, to treat it.
- Reduce the salt in your diet, ideally to no more than 1,500 milligrams a day (about a half teaspoon).
- Increase polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in your diet, while avoiding foods high in saturated fats.
- Eat 4 to 5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day, one serving of fish two to three times a week, and several daily servings of whole grains and low-fat dairy.
- Get more exercise — at least 30 minutes of activity a day, and more, if possible.
- Quit smoking, if you smoke.
2. Lose weight
Obesity, as well as its complications (such as high blood pressure and diabetes), increases your risk of a stroke. If you’re overweight, decreasing only 10 pounds can reduce your stroke risk significantly.
While a BMI of 25 or less is considered optimal, it may not be feasible for you. Create a personal weight loss strategy with your doctor.
How to achieve it:
- Try to eat no more than 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day (depending on your activity level and your current BMI).
- Increase the amount of exercise you do with activities like walking, golfing, or playing tennis, and by making activity part of every single day.
3. Exercise more
Exercise can help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure, but it can also help you prevent strokes on its own.
At least five days a week, engage in moderate exercise.
How to get it:
- Take a walk around your neighborhood every morning after breakfast.
- Start a fitness club with friends.
- When you exercise, reach the level at which you’re breathing hard, but you can still talk.
- Take the stairs instead of an elevator when you can.
- If you don’t have 30 consecutive minutes to exercise, break it up into 10- to 15-minute sessions a few times each day.
4. Drink in moderation if you do
A small amount of alcohol is acceptable and may reduce your risk of stroke. According to studies, having one drink every day may reduce your risk. When you consume more than two drinks every day, your risk increases dramatically.
Don’t drink alcohol or do it in moderation.
How to achieve it:
- Limit yourself just one glass of alcohol every day.
- Because red wine includes resveratrol, which is known to protect the heart and brain, it should be your first option.
- Keep your portion sizes in check. A 5-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce beer, or 1.5-ounce glass of hard liquor is considered a standard-sized drink.
5. Diabetes treatment
High blood sugar damages blood arteries over time, increasing the risk of clot formation.
Maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions for blood sugar monitoring.
- Maintain a healthy blood sugar level with food, activity, and medication.
6. Quit smoking
Smoking has a number of different effects on clot development. It thickens your blood and causes plaque buildup in your arteries to rise. Along with a good diet and regular exercise, quitting smoking is one of the most effective lifestyle changes you can make to lower your stroke risk.
- Ask your doctor for advice on the most appropriate way for you to quit.
- Use quit-smoking aids, such as nicotine pills or patches, counseling, or medicine.
- Don’t give up. Most smokers need several tries to quit. See each attempt as bringing you one step closer to successfully beating the habit.
7. Treat atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat that leads to the formation of blood clots in the heart. These clots can move to the brain and cause a stroke. Stroke risk is nearly fivefold higher in people with atrial fibrillation.
If you have atrial fibrillation, get it treated.
- Consult your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms like heart palpitations or shortness of breath.
- To lower your stroke risk from atrial fibrillation, you may need to take an anticoagulant (blood thinner) like warfarin (Coumadin) or one of the newer direct-acting anticoagulants.
- This treatment will be guided by your doctors.