Stroke is one of the leading causes of serious disability in the UK, and the fourth biggest cause of death, despite there being many things that people can do to help reduce their risk.1
Every year in the UK there are 152,000 incidences of stroke, and although there are 1.2 million stroke survivors across the country, one in eight people who have suffered a stroke will die within a month of it occurring and one in four within a year.1
There are three main types of stroke – ischaemic (caused by a clot), haemorrhagic (caused by a bleed) and a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), also known as a ‘mini-stroke’.
Each of these can result in major long-term debilitation and severely affect quality of life – half of all stroke survivors are disabled and a third are dependent on others.
However, there are many ways in which people can help to reduce their risk of stroke and other medical conditions and benefit from a healthier lifestyle.
The Stroke Association has provided the following advice on how to limit stroke risk, with diet, exercise and lifestyle changes all playing a major role in helping to lower the chances of an incident.
One of the easiest ways to help lower stroke risk is to make changes to your diet, specifically lowering the intake of food that can raise cholesterol and restrict blood flow. Eating more fibre-rich foods helps to lower cholesterol, which has a positive effect on boosting blood flow, while upping your intake of fruit and vegetables helps to increase nutrient and vitamin intake.
Aim to choose white meats such as chicken and fish over red meats, as the saturated fat content is lower and the protein content is also generally higher. Oily fish also contains omega-3, which can prevent blood clots and lower blood pressure.
Fatty and sugary foods also contribute significantly to weight gain due to their saturated fat and refined sugar content. Limit the intake of these by not snacking on foods full of them; try turning to healthier options such as fruit. When cooking, also avoid frying and try to steam, boil or grill instead.
Weight and fitness
Following a balanced diet plays a key role in helping to maintain a healthy weight, although weight is not always an accurate indicator of healthiness. A person’s body mass index (BMI) is a better indicator of their health as it takes into account that people are different shapes and sizes. A healthy BMI is generally considered to be between 18.5 and 25.2 If you would like to work out your BMI, you can do so here.
Being overweight puts people at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, all of which increase stroke risk. People who are overweight have a 22 per cent greater risk of suffering a stroke, while obesity increases a person’s risk by 64 per cent.1
Exercise plays a major role in helping to control weight gain, with research showing that your risk of having a stroke is 27 per cent lower if you regularly exercise.1 The NHS recommend that adults should take part in 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week3 – this can also be broken up into bite-sized sessions of five or ten minutes.
To help motivate you to start and maintain an exercise routine, try to take up something you enjoy and that doesn’t feel like a hassle. Consider having an exercise partner to do the activity with you, and also think about investing in a pedometer, which will help you to track your progress.
Smoking and drinking
One of the biggest yet completely avoidable risk factors for stroke is smoking. You are twice as likely to die from stroke if you are a smoker, and also far more likely to develop high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for stroke and heart problems.4
Stopping smoking immediately reduces your risk of stroke and other health problems, regardless of your age or how long you have smoked.
Drinking also plays a major role in heightening stroke risk, as alcohol increases blood pressure and places strain on the arteries and the heart. Binge drinking is particularly dangerous, and occurs when you consume a high amount of alcohol in a short space of time, raising blood pressure very quickly.
It is recommended that both men and women do not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week.5 Having three alcohol-free days a week can also allow the body to detox and help to reduce the risk of a range of health conditions, including stroke.
Stroke Association is a charity that helps to raise awareness of stroke and help people to lower their risk. It also offers support and advice to stroke survivors and their families. For more information, visit www.stroke.org.uk/.
1 Stroke Association
2 NHS http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/3215.aspx?CategoryID=52
3 NHS http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults.aspx
4 Stroke Association https://www.stroke.org.uk/what-stroke/reduce-your-risk/stop-smoking
5 Drinkaware https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/alcoholic-drinks-units/alcohol-limits-unit-guidelines/