The best way to help prevent a stroke is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
These lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of problems like:
- arteries becoming clogged with fatty substances (atherosclerosis)
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol levels
If you’ve already had a stroke, making these changes can help reduce your risk of having another one in the future.
An unhealthy diet can increase your chances of having a stroke because it may lead to an increase in your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
A low-fat, high-fibre diet is usually recommended, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (5 A Day) and wholegrains.
Ensuring a balance in your diet is important. Don’t eat too much of any single food, particularly foods high in salt and processed foods.
You should limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g (0.2oz) a day as too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Six grams of salt is about one teaspoonful.
Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way to maintain a healthy weight. Regular exercise can also help lower your cholesterol and keep your blood pressure healthy.
For most people, at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week is recommended.
If you’re recovering from a stroke, you should discuss possible exercise plans with the members of your rehabilitation team.
Regular exercise may not be possible in the first weeks or months after a stroke, but you should be able to begin exercising once your rehabilitation has progressed.
Smoking significantly increases your risk of having a stroke. This is because it narrows your arteries and makes your blood more likely to clot.
You can reduce your risk of having a stroke by stopping smoking. Not smoking will also improve your general health and reduce your risk of developing other serious conditions, such as lung cancer and heart disease.
Cut down on alcohol
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure and trigger an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), both of which can increase your risk of having a stroke.
Because alcoholic drinks are high in calories, they also cause weight gain. Heavy drinking multiplies the risk of stroke by more than three times.
If you choose to drink alcohol and have fully recovered, you should aim not to exceed the recommended limits:
- men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
- spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week
If you haven’t fully recovered from your stroke, you may find you’ve become particularly sensitive to alcohol and even the recommended safe limits may be too much for you.
Managing underlying conditions
If you’ve been diagnosed with a condition known to increase your risk of stroke, ensuring the condition is well controlled is also important in helping prevent strokes.
The lifestyle changes mentioned above can help control these conditions to a large degree, but you may also need to take regular medication.