You can lower your chance of stroke by making the right lifestyle changes. It’s important to maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and control other medical conditions that may increase your stroke risk.
Each year, more than 700,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke. A stroke occurs when blood flow to or within the brain is restricted. The consequences can be severe, so it’s important to understand what you can do to reduce your stroke risk.
The good news is you can take steps to protect yourself, even if you’ve already had a stroke, by making healthy lifestyle changes and improving your overall heart health. Here are nine ways to reduce your risk.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you’re overweight, your body may turn your excess fat and cholesterol into artery-blocking plaque. This plaque may eventually burst and cause clots that cut off blood flow to your brain, causing a stroke. Carrying around extra pounds also forces your heart to work harder, which can drive your blood pressure higher — and high blood pressure is another stroke risk factor. You can lose weight by eating a balanced diet that consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy. Exercises such as walking, dancing, biking, or swimming can also help you shed the pounds and keep them off.
Know Your Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol levels can cause plaque to build up along the inner walls of your arteries. The plaque can rupture and cause blood clots to form. If a clot forms and blocks a blood vessel that feeds the brain, it can result in a stroke. To address this stroke cause, check your cholesterol regularly and do what you can to keep it under control . You can try lowering your blood cholesterol with a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fats, but your doctor also may recommend medications to help lower levels more.
Control Your Atrial Fibrillation
Having atrial fibrillation, which causes the upper chambers of your heart to beat rapidly and unevenly, can increase your risk of stroke. Like other stroke risk factors, the dangers of atrial fibrillation can also be reduced, Green says. A priority to avoid stroke when you have this condition is to follow your doctor’s treatment plan. If your doctor gives you medications to prevent blood clots, be sure you take them as prescribed.
Keep Diabetes in Check
Having diabetes can damage the blood vessels in your body, including those in the neck and brain, which can significantly increase your stroke risk. That’s why it’s important that you keep your diabetes under control. Manage this stroke risk factor by seeing your doctor regularly, monitoring your blood sugar levels, keeping your weight in check, and exercising almost every day. If your doctor gives you medication to manage your diabetes, make sure you take it as prescribed.
The American Heart Association recommends that people who have had a stroke take an aspirin a day to reduce the risk of having another stroke. Research shows that aspirin and other kinds of anti-platelet medications can help those at high risk prevent a stroke. However, even though aspirin is sold over-the-counter, never start taking it without talking to your doctor about the pros and cons. Not everyone can tolerate aspirin, so you may need to try other approaches to reduce stroke risk.
Control Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is one of the major stroke causes, if not the leading one. Fortunately, you can control your blood pressure and reduce stroke risk with lifestyle changes and medications. Start eating a low-fat diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and increase your physical activity so that you’re getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day at least five days a week. If your doctor orders medication for high blood pressure, be sure to take it as prescribed.
Shake the Salt Habit
Another way to reduce your blood pressure and reduce stroke risk is to watch your salt intake. Make sure you consume less than 2400 milligrams of sodium daily — which is no more than a teaspoon, including the salt already contained in packaged foods. An easy way to address this stroke risk factor is to flavor your foods with herbs instead of salt. Processed and prepared foods can contain a lot of salt that’s not easy to see, so be sure to read food labels, or even better, try to limit processed foods in your diet. Cut down on packaged foods like cold cuts, bacon, prepared meals such as pasta, meat, and egg dishes, canned foods, and fast foods.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking is a major modifiable risk factor for stroke. When you smoke cigarettes, the nicotine and carbon monoxide you inhale can damage and narrow your blood vessels, causing your blood to clot, which is a factor that can also lead to a stroke. Do your best to stay away from others that smoke as well. Even second-hand smoke is among the controllable stroke risk factors.
Say No to Heavy Drinking
Some studies suggest that moderate amounts of alcohol may actually reduce stroke risk. Moderate is one drink a day for women or up to two drinks a day for men. However, it is important to monitor how much alcohol you drink. If you drink excessively, you are three times more likely to have a stroke. Expert advises drinking no more than a drink or two a day and designating at least two days every week to be drink free. Ask your doctor for a counselor referral if you have difficulty limiting your alcohol intake.
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