5 Lifestyle Changes to Dramatically Lower Stroke Risk

Try these tips to help prevent strokes.

happy couple walking outdoors

Updated on January 8, 2024.

Did you know that, of the most common type of stroke, 80 percent are preventable? There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your risk.

While you may already include some of these in your daily routine, your risk of stroke drops dramatically if you do all five. 

  • Walk briskly every day 
  • Maintain a healthy weight 
  • Avoid cigarette smoke 
  • Enjoy alcohol only in moderation 
  • Eat as nutritiously as you can 

The golden health rules to reduce stroke 

In a large, landmark 2008 study of men and women in their 50s published in Circulation, those who stuck most closely to these five basic health habits were 80 percent less likely to have an ischemic stroke, the kind that occurs when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain. This group of people got in about 30 minutes a day of moderate or vigorous exercise, such as brisk walking, dancing, or cycling. Each had a body mass index (BMI) below 25. Their diet mainstays were fruit, veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. And the women had no more than one alcoholic drink per day, while the men had no more than two. 

The more healthful lifestyle factors you can rack up, the lower your risk of stroke. But even adopting one or two of these habits could be beneficial.

Take exercise, for example. A study published in JAMA Network Open in 2021 suggested that the more time spent doing physical activity—and the less time spent being sedentary—the better. Researchers analyzed the activity habits of more than 7,600 middle-aged adults and found that those who did the most amount of moderate-intensity physical activity each day had a 43 percent lower risk of stroke than those who did the least. What’s more, those who were least active had the highest chances of stroke.

Even walking can help reduce the risk of stroke. The key is to walk with intention: Research shows that the faster you walk, the greater benefit you get in terms of stroke risk reduction. One meta-analysis of seven studies published in 2020 in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that each increase in walking speed of 1 kilometer per hour (roughly 0.6 miles per hour) was linked to a reduction in stroke risk of 13 percent. 

Why it works 

These five lifestyle changes not only help prevent stroke itself, but also the conditions that lead to stroke, including high blood pressure and diabetes. Cigarette smoke, heavy alcohol consumption, and obesity are also known stroke risk factors.

Here’s how to overcome some common obstacles and turn these suggestions into real-life habits. 

Article sources open article sources

American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. Last reviewed Apr 18, 2018.
Chiuve SE, Rexrode KM, et al. Primary prevention of stroke by healthy lifestyle. Circulation. 2008;118(9):947-954.
Hooker SP, Diaz KM, Blair SN, et al. Association of Accelerometer-Measured Sedentary Time and Physical Activity With Risk of Stroke Among US Adults. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(6). 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Stroke Deaths: Progress Stalled. Page last reviewed: September 6, 2017.
Meschia JF, Bushnell C, Boden-Albala B, et al. Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: a statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2014;45(12):3754-3832.
Kleindorfer D, Twofighi A, Chaturvedi S, et al. 2021 Guideline for the Prevention of Stroke in Patients With Stroke and Transient Ischemic Attack: A Guideline From the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2021;52:e364–e467.
Quan M, Xun P, Wang R, He K, Chen P. Walking pace and the risk of stroke: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. J Sport Health Sci. 2020;9(6):521-529.
Hayes S, Forbes JF, Celis-Morales C, et al. Association Between Walking Pace and Stroke Incidence: Findings From the UK Biobank Prospective Cohort Study. Stroke. 2020;51(5):1388-1395. 

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