According to The National Stroke Foundation of Australia (NSF), over 80 per cent of strokes can be prevented. This is a pretty huge number, so it seems extremely worthwhile to examine the best ways to help prevent a stroke.
While it’s true that your age and family health history can increase your chances of a stroke, there are many other stroke risks and factors that are well within our control.
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients and killing the brain cells.
The effects of this can be different for everybody, depending on which part of the brain is affected, but it can impact how you think, your behaviours, your ability to recall and use words, your sight, your sense of touch and your general body movement.
While the consequences of a stroke are often consistent, there are actually two different types of stroke. The first is called an ischaemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot blocking blood flow to the brain. The other is called a haemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel in the brain breaks.
How can you reduce your risk?
August 2 to 8 is National Stroke Week — a time when NSF asks us to educate ourselves around the signs of stroke — so now is as good a time as any to make some simple lifestyle changes that may be the thing that keeps you healthy.
1. Watch your blood pressure
According to Harvard Health Publishing, high blood pressure can increase your chance of a stroke by up to four times. In fact, it’s considered the biggest risk factor for strokes. To lower yours, you can do things like increase your exercise, improve your diet and quit smoking.
2. Look after pre-existing health conditions
Besides blood pressure, there are other pre-existing health conditions and diseases that can increase your chance of having a stroke — like diabetes and Atrial fibrillation (a form of irregular heartbeat). Harvard Health says the answer is to stay on top of your treatments for these things.
3. Follow a healthy diet
Not only can a bad diet increase your risk of a stroke, NSF reports that it can also increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.
They recommend getting a good balance of food from all the food groups, cutting back on your salt intake, avoiding highly sugary snacks and drinks and generally keeping your food fresh, not processed.
4. Exercise regularly
Besides those sweet, sweet endorphins, regular exercise actually reduces your risk of a stroke (not to mention other diseases) by helping you maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes. NSF recommends a minimum of two and a half to five hours of getting a sweat on each week.
5. Watch your alcohol intake
It’s not that you can’t drink at all, but drinking alcohol in moderation is a huge factor in decreasing your risk of a stroke. Excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risks through increased blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity and irregular heartbeat, The Stroke Foundation shares.
Harvard suggests that once you have more than two drinks a day, your risk increases pretty dramatically.
6. Stop smoking
According to Harvard Health Publishing, smoking thickens your blood and increases the amount of plaque buildup in your arteries, both of which accelerate clot formation.
Please, stop smoking.
7. Get regular health checks
If you’re unsure whether something is up, reach out to a health professional for a chat. Stroke Foundation Australia recommends regular health checks with your doctor to catch early signs of health problems that may increase your risk, especially if you’re over 45.