Keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy can lower the risk of most strokes. There are many factors that can affect your heart health. The more of these you control, the more you lower your risk:
Stay at a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight or obese, talk to your doctor about how to lose weight. Follow a healthful eating plan and workout regularly. Lose weight slowly over time. A dietitian can help with meal planning and portion sizes.
Smoking can add to the build up of plaque in the arteries. This raises your risk of atherosclerosis. Over time, this raises the risk of blood clots, which can limit or block blood flow to the brain. Smoking can also cause tightening or spasming of blood vessels. This can build up more plaque.
If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit. Secondhand smoke can also be harmful. Stay away from places where people smoke.
Drinking too much alcohol raises the risk of heart arrhythmias. This can affect blood flow to the brain. If you drink alcohol, aim for moderation. This means two drinks or less per day for men, and one drink or less per day for women. Some studies say that drinking in moderation may be helpful. You don't have to start drinking to get this small benefit.
Eat a Healthful Diet
Your diet can impact on your cholesterol levels. A healthful diet can lower your risk of a heart attack by limiting plaque build up.
Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits and veggies, and nuts. Also try replacing bad fats with good fats. This means eating more fats like olive and canola oil, and less saturated and trans fats like margarine.
You should eat fish at least two times a week. It has healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take supplements.
Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking or biking, can help lower the risk of stroke and other heart problems. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day on most days of the week. If you have a desk job, aim for 60 minutes of exercise a day. Working out can help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, raise your good cholesterol, and ease strain on your heart.
Talk to your doctor before starting any workout program.
Manage Other Health Problems
Some health problems are linked to an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. You can't get rid of all your risks, but you can try to manage health problems and lower your risk.
Hypertension is the biggest risk factor for stroke. If you have it, stick to the plan your doctor has given you. Check your blood pressure often. Talk to your doctor about checking it at home.
Dietary changes, regular exercise, and medicine can help you control your blood pressure. The DASH diet can also help.
High blood glucose levels can raise your risk for a stroke by harming smaller blood vessels and adding to plaque build up on blood vessel walls. Controlling blood glucose levels may put off heart problems that can lead to stroke. If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to make a plan to manage your blood glucose levels.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is marked by repeated episodes of complete or partial airway obstruction during sleep. It is linked to disrupted sleep patterns and decreased oxygen supply. It has also been linked to many heart problems as well as early death. Problems from OSA are high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. Work with your doctor to manage your sleep apnea. This may include using a CPAP machine or surgery.
Ask your doctor whether taking a daily aspirin is right for you. If you are at high risk for stroke, it may help may prevent one. This therapy does carry a risk of bleeding. Talk to your doctor first.
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Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD Last Updated: 1/7/2019