Ten ways to avoid a stroke

Jane Murphy / 18 May 2015

Every three-and-a-half minutes, someone in the UK suffers a stroke. Risk increases with age – so find out what you can do to protect yourself.



1. Get your blood pressure checked

High blood pressure is a contributing factor to more than 50 per cent of strokes. However, the condition may not have any symptoms until it's too late, which is why it's so important to get yours checked regularly.

Around eight million people in the UK are unaware they're at risk of stroke because of their blood pressure, according to the charity Blood Pressure UK (www.bloodpressureuk.org).

Find out what you need to know about blood pressure

2. Have a banana

Boosting the amount of potassium you consume may lower your risk of stroke. The reason? It helps lower blood pressure levels. Potassium-rich foods include bananas – as well as broccoli, dates and nuts. Recent research published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke found that post-menopausal women who eat the most potassium are 12 per cent less likely to suffer a stroke.

3. Give up smoking

You're twice as likely to have a stroke if you smoke. Put simply, smoking causes your arteries to fur up, making a blood clot more likely. Need help giving up? Get free support at www.nhs.uk/smokefree.

Read our guide to giving up smoking

4. Watch your alcohol intake

Drinking just one large glass of wine or a pint of strong beer each day can increase risk of stroke by a third in otherwise healthy people, according to a recent study of 11,644 pairs of twins in their 50s and 60s, published in the journal Stroke. Aim to have at least two or three booze-free days each week. Remember, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, both of which are major risk factors for stroke.

Find out more about how alcohol affects older people

5. Don't forget your flu jab

People who have the seasonal flu jab are nearly a quarter less likely to suffer a stroke in the months that follow, say researchers from Nottingham and Lincoln universities. It's thought the flu virus causes inflammation, which in turn makes plaques erupt in the arteries and forces the heart to work harder. The reduction in risk seems to be greatest in the first three months following vaccination, but remains for up to a year – as long as the jab is given early in the season.

6. Watch your salt intake

Even a modest reduction in salt intake for four or more weeks is enough to significantly lower blood pressure, and so reduce risk of stroke, according to scientists at the University of London. The current daily recommended amount is no more than 6g salt per day – although the UK's average dietary intake is 9g, partly due to the amount of salt already added to foods we buy, such as bread.

7. Go for a walk

Staying active is one of the best ways to lower your blood pressure, control your weight and manage stress – and so greatly reduce your chances of suffering a stroke. Men aged 60 to 80 who walk for eight to 14 hours per week have roughly a third lower risk of stroke than their peers who walk for less than three hours each week, say researchers at University College London. Don't feel like hurrying? No problem! The length of time you spend walking appears to be far more significant than the speed at which you walk.

Find out how to get more out of your walks

8. Even better, go for a jog

Jogging for just a few minutes regularly – even at a very slow pace – can reduce risk of dying prematurely from a stroke or heart disease, according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The study of 55,000 adults found that running for approximately seven minutes each day – or 51 minutes per week – cut risk of stroke death by an incredible 55 per cent.

9. Don't sleep for too long

A good night's sleep is essential for optimum health. However, recent research from the University of Cambridge suggests that regularly sleeping for more than eight hours could increase stroke risk – and this risk doubles for older people who sleep longer than average. Commenting on the research, Dr Madina Kara, research manager at the Stroke Association, says: 'The researchers have highlighted that the reasons behind the suggested link between sleeping for prolonged periods and stroke are still not known. Longer sleep could be a symptom, or a cause, of cardiovascular problems.'

10. Avoid air pollution

We admit it may be easier said than done – but steering clear of air pollution could be key to avoiding a stroke. Recent exposure to polluted air increases risk of hospitalisation or death from stroke, particularly if you already have a heart or lung condition, according to new research from the University of Edinburgh. Try to avoid prolonged periods in places close to heavy traffic or areas where pollution produced by industry adds to that produced by traffic. And always listen out for pollution warnings on the news and weather reports.

Find out more at www.stroke.org.uk/strokemonth.

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