5 Ways to Lower Your Stroke Risk Now

About 80 percent of strokes are preventable—if you make little changes to your day. Learn about these five easy ways to reduce stroke risk and get healthy.

Medically reviewed in February 2022

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Without much warning, a stroke—a.k.a. brain attack—can reduce or end your ability to move, talk and think. In the US, stroke kills one person every four minutes. Yet according to the American Heart Association, roughly 80 percent of strokes are preventable. And while you can’t do much about your age, gender, race or family history, there are things you can change. Follow these five easy (and proven!) ways you can protect yourself against stroke, starting today.

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Take Your Medicine

If your doctor has prescribed medication for diabetes, high cholesterol, AFib or high blood pressure—all conditions that can raise your risk for stroke—take it. “It’s so important to take your meds and not stop until the physician says so,” explains Kristy Chambers, RN, MSN, a stroke care coordinator with Ogden Regional Medical Center in Utah. Many people don’t want medicines for so-called silent conditions without symptoms, she adds. But as these drugs treat your conditions, they lower your chances of stroke, too.

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Move a Little

Walk or bike five days a week and you’ll reduce your risk of stroke by as much as 20 percent. Some women may benefit even more. Using birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can increase the risk of blood clots and stroke, but exercise helps balance those risks, explains Chambers.

Your goal is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. At that pace, you should be able to talk comfortably. If you can sing, speed up. If you have to stop to breathe, slow down.

Don’t have a half hour to spare? Try three 10-minute walks instead.

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Check Your Sleep Habits

Those snores, snorts and gasps can do more than annoy your partner. Sleep apnea, a condition where breathing is interrupted during sleep, can strain the heart, causing high blood pressure and irregular heart rhythm. Eventually, those problems can lead to stroke.

Not sure if you’re a loud sleeper? Try recording yourself at night—alone—so you can’t blame noises on your partner or the dog. If you think you could have sleep apnea, talk with your doctor or ask for a sleep specialist.

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Go Mediterranean

Sure, the drive-thru is quick and convenient, but it may be doing a number on your health. A far healthier option: the Mediterranean diet. “It’s the highest recommended diet,” says Chambers. Rich in fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish and poultry, it limits red meat, salt and butter—all ingredients that can lead to hypertension, unhealthy cholesterol and stroke. Mounting evidence shows that eating a plant-based diet such as the Mediterranean plan may lower stroke risk by about 18 percent. 

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Leave Work on Time

Workaholics beware: A 2015 analysis found that people who worked 55 hours or more every week were 33 percent more likely to suffer a stroke than those with regular nine-to-five jobs. Stroke risk increased with the amount of overtime.

If the stress of your job is getting to you, look for ways to improve your work-life balance. In the meantime, try these tips from Chambers to relax:

  • Use an app that reminds you to stand up every hour
  • Take a 10-minute walk to boost circulation—preferably in the sunshine
  • Sit in a quiet, dark room for five minutes

These little changes will calm your mind and your body by bringing down your blood pressure.

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Know the Signs

Stroke protection includes recognizing its symptoms. Remember F.A.S.T.: Face drooping, Arms weak or drifting downward, Speech slurred or strange, and Time to call the doctor. Don’t delay—call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number.

Other stroke symptoms may include:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg, often on one side the body
  • Severe headache
  • Blurred vision or trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, with or without dizziness

Always note the time symptoms started. Doing so will help doctors determine if the patient is a candidate for certain treatments, says Chambers.

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