In the U.S., someone has a stroke approximately every 40 seconds. About 15 percent of the time, strokes are preceded by an early warning signal called a transient ischemic attack, or “mini-stroke.” After a mini-stroke, the chances of a full-blown stroke occurring within 90 days are much higher.
The good news is that research has shown the right lifestyle habits can slash your stroke risk significantly—up to 54%! For this study published in the journal Neurology, researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden studied 31,696 women with an average age of 60. They asked the women to complete detailed questionnaires asking them about five lifestyle factors:
- Body mass index (under 25 kg/m2)
- Moderate alcohol consumption (3-9 drinks per week)
- Physical activity (moderate exercise for at least 40 minutes a day, and vigorous exercise for one or more hours per week)
- Never smoking
- A healthy diet (eating at the top 50% of the recommended food score)
At the end of 10 years, they found that those who adhered to all five lifestyle factors had a 54% lower risk of stroke than those who didn’t follow any of the lifestyle factors. Plus, those same participants had a 62% lower risk of cerebral infarction, a type of ischemic stroke.
While this study looked at women specifically, these same lifestyle factors apply to men. But I would make two modifications to the lifestyle habits used in this study. First, limit yourself to four alcoholic drinks per week at a maximum, having up to nine drinks a week is too much. Also, pay attention to your emotions since there’s a strong connection between anger and resentment and cardiac events.
Lifestyle Habits Can Lower Your Stroke Risk, Significantly
There are two types of strokes: hemorrhagic and ischemic. Hemorrhagic strokes result from a blood vessel that bursts somewhere inside the brain. They’re often deadly and tough to treat, and fortunately less common.
The more common type of stroke, ischemic strokes, are caused by a clot or plaque which blocks an artery to (or within) the brain. Fortunately, ischemic strokes are heavily influenced by lifestyle—and the right lifestyle changes can help ward off a stroke.
To reduce your stroke risk:
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure. Blood pressure is a major cause of strokes, one that can double or triple your risk. The problem is that high blood pressure can cause clots in the arteries leading to your brain, as well as weakening the blood vessels within your brain. A healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg.
- Slim down. Carrying around extra weight can lead to high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which can raise your stroke risk. Shedding even 10 extra pounds can significantly reduce your risk of developing a stroke or other cardiovascular issues.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, which can break off and cause a stroke. It can also thicken your blood which can lead to a stroke. So, if you smoke quit.
- Get moving. Exercise is very important for maintaining a healthy heart and reducing your stroke risk. Here’s how to begin a heart-healthy exercise program.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Excess alcohol can raise your triglycerides and blood pressure and can trigger atrial fibrillation—all of which can put you at higher risk of a stroke.
- Take vitamin C. People with low levels of vitamin C are at a higher risk of having a hemorrhagic stroke. That’s because Vitamin C helps to strengthen the blood vessel walls and helps to lower blood pressure by promoting the production of nitric oxide (NO) which relaxes the blood vessels. I recommend taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C in the morning for preventing stroke but talk to your doctor first, especially if you have hemochromatosis.
If you have significant risk factors for a stroke, especially high blood pressure, you can ask your doctor to do a PLAC test which can detect an ischemic stroke years in advance—giving you time to make lifestyle changes to help prevent a stroke.
Larsson S. Healthy diet and lifestyle and risk of stroke in a prospective cohort of women. Neurology. 2014.