Age makes us more susceptible to having a stroke, as does having a close relative who has had a stroke. You can't reverse the years or change your family history, but there are many other stroke risk factors you can control—provided that you're aware of them. If you know that a particular risk factor is sabotaging your health and predisposing you to a higher risk of stroke, you can take steps to alleviate the effects of that risk.
Here are eight ways to start reducing your risks today, before a stroke has the chance to strike.
1. Lower your blood pressure
High blood pressure can double or even quadruple your stroke risk if it isn’t controlled. Ideally, you should maintain a blood pressure of less than 120/80, but for some, a less aggressive goal may be more appropriate.
- - Reduce the salt in your diet to no more than 1,500 mg per day.
- - Minimize foods high in fat and/or sugar.
- - 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 regular exercise — at least 30 minutes of activity a day.
- - Quit smoking.
- - If needed, take blood pressure medicines.
2. Lose weight
Obesity, as well as the complications linked to it, raises your odds of having a stroke. If you're overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can have a real impact on your stroke risk. A good goal is to keep your body mass index (BMI) at 25 or less.
- - Try to eat no more than 1,500 to 2,500 calories a day (depending on your activity level and your current BMI).
- - Increase the amount of exercise you do with activities like walking or playing sport, and by making activity a part of every day.
3. Exercise more
Exercise contributes to losing weight and lowering blood pressure, but it also stands on its own as a stroke reducer. The goal should be to exercise at a moderate intensity five days a week. Start out slow and build your way up.
- - Take a daily walk around your neighborhood.
- - Start a fitness club with friends or join the local gym.
- - 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.
4. Drink — in moderation
What you've heard is true. Drinking can make you less likely to have a stroke — up to a point. While studies show that if you have about one drink per day, your risk may be lower, once you start drinking more than two drinks per day, your risk goes up very sharply.
- - Have one glass of alcohol a day.
- - Watch your portion sizes. A standard-sized drink is a 5-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce beer, or 1.5-ounce glass of spirits.
5. Treat atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat that causes clots to form in the heart. Those clots can then travel to the brain, producing a stroke. Atrial fibrillation carries almost a fivefold risk of stroke, and should be taken very seriously. If you have atrial fibrillation, get it treated.
- - If you have symptoms such as heart palpitations or shortness of breath, see your doctor.
- - You may need to take blood thinners such as aspirin or warfarin to reduce your stroke risk from atrial fibrillation. Your doctor can guide you through this treatment.
6. Keep your blood sugar controlled
Having high blood sugar damages blood vessels over time, making clots more likely to form inside them.
- - Monitor your blood sugar as directed by your doctor.
- - Use diet, exercise, and medicines to keep your blood sugar within the recommended range.
7. Quit smoking
Smoking accelerates clot formation in a number of ways. It thickens your blood, and increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries. Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, smoking cessation is one of the most powerful changes you can make to reduce your stroke risk significantly.
- - Ask your doctor for advice on the most appropriate way for you to quit.
- - Use quit-smoking aids, such as nicotine replacements, counseling, or medicine.
- - Don't give up. Most smokers need several tries to quit.
8. Use proven supplements
While many supplements have not been shown to effectively decrease your risk of stroke, some have been scientifically proven to support a healthy cardiovascular system and may provide that little bit of extra protection alongside a healthy lifestyle. These include:
- - Omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in fish oil or flax-seed oil
- - Supplements which increase nitric oxide or dilate blood vessels such as garlic or L-arginine
- - Specialized heart health formulas such as MitoQ Heart which contains a powerful antioxidant, Vitamin D3, Magnesium and L-carnitine; all proven to support cardiovascular health.