The 5 Best Ways to Slash Your Stroke Risk, According to Doctors


Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the U.S., according to the American Stroke Association. In fact, roughly half of stroke survivors over the age of 65 experience reduced mobility, which can lead to lower quality of life.

Yet despite those scary statistics, experts say you're in the driver's seat when it comes to lowering your stroke risk. "Fortunately, there are many strategies to prevent a first-time cerebrovascular event or to reduce the risk of recurrent stroke or TIA," says Sandra Narayanan, MD, a board certified vascular neurologist and neurointerventional surgeon at Pacific Stroke & Neurovascular Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California. In fact, "up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented with these lifestyle changes," she tells Best Life.  Read on for Narayanan's advice on the five best ways to slash your stroke risk at any age.

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Quit smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to reduce your stroke risk, Narayanan says. "Smoking makes you twice as likely to die if you have a stroke, and the more you smoke, the greater your risk of stroke. If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, you are six times more likely to have a stroke compared to a nonsmoker," says the U.K.'s Stroke Association.

The organization explains that the presence of nicotine and carbon monoxide in tobacco products is just one reason that smoking and stroke are linked. "When you inhale cigarette smoke, carbon monoxide and nicotine enter your bloodstream. The carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, and the nicotine makes your heart beat faster and raises your blood pressure. This increases your risk of a stroke," their experts say.

The good news? Quitting smoking can have fast-acting effects. "Within eight hours, your oxygen levels return to normal and carbon monoxide and nicotine levels reduce by more than half," the Stroke Association states.

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Manage your blood pressure

Another way to lower your stroke risk is by managing your blood pressure, Narayanan says. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that's because "high blood pressure can cause the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain to burst or be blocked."

Since you can't manage what you're unaware of, Narayanan says consistent monitoring is key. "Keep a blood pressure (BP) machine at home if you have high blood pressure and take measurements daily. Write these down and bring the log to your doctor's appointments," she advises. She adds that your goal blood pressure should be less than 140/90 mm Hg (or less than 130/80 mm Hg for patients with diabetes mellitus).

Eat a Mediterranean-style diet

Your diet can also have a profound effect on your stroke risk, Narayanan says. That's why she recommends the same healthy eating plan offered up by the American Stroke Association (ASA) as a stroke prevention measure: the Mediterranean diet.

Narayanan notes that this particular diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and nuts. "It also centers on minimally processed, plant-based foods," notes the ASA.

Exercise daily
iStock / FreshSplash

Adding some physical activity to your day can also help lower your stroke risk, says Narayanan. You can do this "in any form, even if it's just 10 minutes a day at first," she tells Best Life.

However, experts from Harvard Health Publishing say that if you're able, your goal should be to "exercise at a moderate intensity at least five days a week" for 30 minutes each day. "If you don't have 30 consecutive minutes to exercise, break it up into 10- to 15-minute sessions a few times each day," they write.

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Manage your cholesterol

Finally, managing your cholesterol can also help you slash your stroke risk—and this starts with monitoring your levels. According to the Cleveland Clinic, your low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (also known as LDL or "bad cholesterol") should be under 100 mg/dL. "If you've already had a stroke or TIA, aim for an LDL under 70 mg/dL," adds Narayanan. You can achieve this through dietary and other lifestyle changes, the Mayo Clinic suggests.

Managing your cholesterol can feel daunting at first, but Narayanan urges that you don't have to do it alone. "Knowing your numbers and partnering with the appropriate healthcare providers (primary care physicians, neurologists, or cardiologists) for routine follow-up, medication adjustment, and lab work is critical," the neurologist says.

Speak with a medical professional for more information on lowering your cholesterol or your stroke risk.