What Is a Stroke?

It happens when blood flow is cut off to a part of your brain. The cells begin to die, and brain function in that area is damaged or even destroyed. It usually affects the areas that control muscle function, memory, and speech.

Watch Your Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure and it’s not managed well, it can double or quadruple your risk of stroke. Your blood pressure should be around 120 over 80. If yours is too high, talk to your doctor about changing your diet and getting more exercise. If that’s not enough to control it, he may prescribe medication to help.

Break a Sweat

Exercise helps you get to or stay at a healthy weight and keep your blood pressure where it should be -- two things that can lower stroke risk. You’ll need to work out hard enough to break a sweat 5 days a week for about 30 minutes. Talk to your doctor first if you’re not in great health or haven’t been that active in a while.

Keep Stress in Check

Stress is linked to a higher risk of stroke, maybe because it causes inflammation in parts of your body. If you’re stressed at work, you can do a few things to help dial it back: Get up and move around often, breathe deeply, focus on one thing at a time, and make your work area a calm space with plants and soft colors. And be sure to spend a healthy amount of time away from the office.

Lose Weight

Obesity and the health issues it can cause -- diabetes and high blood pressure -- boost your stroke risk. You can lower that by losing as few as 10 pounds. Try to keep your calorie count under 2,000 a day, and make exercise a regular thing.

Have a (Single) Drink

Your risk of stroke may go down if you have 1 drink a day. But be careful: More than 2, and it quickly shoots up. Heavy drinking can also lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes -- all risk factors for stroke.

Get Your Cholesterol Checked

High levels of LDL cholesterol (over 160 milligrams/deciliter) and low levels of HDL (under 40 milligrams/deciliter) can increase your chances of having plaque buildup in your arteries. That limits blood flow and can lead to a stroke. Cutting down on saturated and trans fats can help lower your LDL, and exercise can boost your HDL. If those don’t do the trick, your doctor may prescribe medication to help with your levels. 

Pay Attention to Your Heartbeat

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) -- an irregular heart rhythm -- makes you five times more likely to have a stroke. If you notice a racing or irregular heartbeat, see your doctor to find out what’s causing it. If it’s AFib, she might be able to reset your heart’s rhythm with medication or a brief electrical shock. If those don’t work, she might recommend removing the area of heart tissue that’s causing the problem.

Manage Your Diabetes

This condition affects how your body uses glucose, an important source of energy for your brain and the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It can raise your odds of having a stroke, so it’s important to watch your blood sugar carefully and follow your doctor’s instructions.

Fiber Up

The magic number here is 7: For every 7 grams of fiber you add to your daily diet, your stroke risk decreases by 7%. You should get about 25 grams a day: six to eight servings of whole grains, or eight to 10 servings of vegetables. Most people don’t come close to that.

Eat (a Little) Dark Chocolate

Flavonoids are plant-based chemicals in cocoa that have all kinds of health benefits. For example, they can help with inflammation, and that can relieve pressure on your heart. About 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day has been shown to help prevent heart attacks and strokes in people with a higher chance of having heart disease. Just don’t overdo it -- chocolate has sugar and saturated fat.

Don’t Smoke

Smoking makes your blood more likely to clot, thickens and narrows your blood vessels, and leads to the buildup of plaque -- all of which make you more likely to have a stroke.

Choose the Right Foods

A balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, and whole grains can help lower your cholesterol. That means plaque is less likely to build up in your arteries and form clots. It also can help protect you from other conditions that raise your odds of having a stroke, like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Take Your Meds

This sounds like an easy one, but a lot of people have a hard time with it. Take medications for blood pressure, diabetes, and heart health on time and as prescribed. If you’re concerned about side effects or something else, talk to your doctor before skipping your medicines or taking less than you’re supposed to.