Did you know that stroke is the third leading cause of early death? What’s more, the most common type of stroke called an ischemic stroke and it’s often preventable. An ischemic stroke happens when a blood vessel carrying blood and oxygen to the brain forms a clot. When this happens, the lifeline to a portion of the brain is cut off. Such a blockage can cause a loss of brain function in certain parts of the brain or even death. Even if you survive a stroke, you may be left with varying degrees of disability. So, it’s best to prevent one from happening in the first place! You can lower your risk through lifestyle.
According to research discussed on Harvard Health, there are eight lifestyle habits that reduce your risk of stroke. Also, these lifestyle habits will lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease as well. Here are eight habits that will help you avoid the perils of a stroke.
Lower Your Risk of Stroke: Quit Smoking
Smoking damages the inner wall of arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood and oxygen away from your heart. When the lining of an artery is damaged by smoking, it increases the likelihood of a clot forming inside the vessel. If this happens in one of the vessels that carry blood and oxygen to your brain, it will damage a portion or portions of your brain. That’s what a stroke is! So, kick the habit now rather than later and your risk for stroke, as well as other chronic health problems, will gradually drop.
Lower Your Risk of Stroke: Control Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors for stroke. An elevated blood pressure, like smoking, also damages the inner wall of the artery. When your blood pressure is too high, it places more force on the walls of arteries, including ones that carry blood to your brain, and this can injure it through shearing forces. Over a long period of time, this shearing force can damage the artery to the point that a clot forms and your brain’s oxygen supply is cut off and a portion dies. How to lower your risk? Check your blood pressure regularly and take steps to lower it if it’s too high.
Lower Your Risk of Stroke: Exercise
Bet you’re not surprised to see this one! Aerobic exercise lowers the risk of stroke in a number of ways. For one, it reduces blood pressure, and hypertension is a strong risk factor for stroke. Exercise also helps reduce blood vessel stiffening that goes along with aging. According to the Stroke Association in the U.K., regular moderate-intensity exercise can reduce the risk of having a stroke by 27%. Exercise is a healthy habit that lowers the risk of a variety of other health problems as well. Plus, it helps reduce blood pressure, a leading risk factor for stroke.
Lower Your Risk of Stroke: Watch Your Weight
Being overweight or obese is another risk factor for ischemic stroke. The good news is losing as little as 10% of your total body weight (assuming you’re overweight) can significantly reduce your risk of developing a stroke. Losing weight may lower your stroke risk in a number of ways. For one, fat produces inflammatory chemicals that can damage the inner wall of blood vessels. Plus, being overweight increases the risk of hypertension and insulin resistance, both of which are linked with higher odds of stroke.
Lower Your Risk of Stroke: Eat a Mediterranean-Style Diet
Skip the highly-processed junk and adopt a Mediterranean diet. Studies link this whole-food style of eating to a reduction in stroke and heart attack risk as well as a drop in all-cause mortality. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish, legumes, and whole grains over processed foods and sugar. Who can argue with that? One study showed that adopting this style of diet was linked with a 37% reduction in stroke risk. So, choose more whole, plant-based foods over junk and you’ll do your heart and blood vessels a favor!
Lower Your Risk of Stroke: Treat Diabetes
Diabetes increases the odds of developing cardiovascular disease and boosts the risk of stroke as well. Unfortunately, we often diagnose type 2 diabetes when it’s already established when it would be best to make lifestyle changes that keep your blood sugar at a healthy BEFORE blood vessel damage that can trigger a stroke takes place. Prevention is always the best medicine! Studies show that a Mediterranean diet may be beneficial for lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. Other studies point out the benefits of adding more non-starchy plant-based foods to your diet to ward off diabetes and bring your blood sugar down if you have it. Of course, exercise is part of the equation as well! Exercise boosts insulin sensitivity and helps cells take up glucose more efficiently.
Lower Your Risk of Stroke: Alcohol Only in Moderation
If you must drink alcohol, stick to only one drink per day, preferably red wine. Some studies show light alcohol may have cardioprotective effects, but at least one study shows that heavy drinking boosts the risk of another type of stroke called a hemorrhagic stroke.
Lower Your Risk of Stroke: Check Your Heart
An irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke, and the incidence is higher after the age of 50. With atrial fibrillation the irregular beating of the heart causes blood to pool in a portion of the heart. This increases the odds of a clot forming and moving to the brain. Fortunately, there are treatments for atrial fibrillation. In some cases, people with a-fib, as it’s called, are placed on blood thinners to reduce the risk of clot formation.
How can you prevent a-fib? Both too little and excessive amounts of exercise are linked with a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation. People who compete in extreme forms of exercise, like ultra-marathons, are at higher risk, but so are people who sit too much on the couch. The key to lowering your risk seems to be moderation. Exercise, but don’t over-train.
The Bottom Line
Now, you know what you can do, backed by science, to lower your risk of stroke. Put them to work for you!
Harvard Health. “Seven Things You Can Do to Prevent a Stroke”
American Heart Association. “How High Blood Pressure Can Lead to Stroke”
BMJ. 2002 Aug 17; 325(7360): 350–351.
Medical News Today. “How does alcohol affect stroke risk? Study investigates”
Stroke Association. (UK) “Do More Exercise”
PLOS One. “Effects of Body Mass Index on Risks for Ischemic Stroke, Thromboembolism, and Mortality in Chinese Atrial Fibrillation Patients: A Single-Center Experience” April 7, 2015.
Stroke. 2015 Mar; 46(3): 780–785.
American Heart Association. “High Blood Pressure, AFib, and Your Risk of Stroke”
Heart Rhythm. 2017 Nov;14(11):1713-1720. doi: 10.1016/j.hrthm.2017.07.001. Epub 2017 Jul 8.