Preventing stroke

For your brain to function healthily, it needs a constant flow of blood to provide vital nutrients and oxygen to brain cells. A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or cut off and the brain cells are damaged or die.

By making five simple lifestyle changes, you can significantly reduce the chances of you or a loved one having a stroke:

  • Eat a healthy diet: healthy eating can help you reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as losing weight. These are all factors that make you more likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke.
  • Take regular moderate exercise: if you’re active 30-60 minutes a day, most days of the week, you dramatically lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Drink sensibly: if you drink alcohol, drink in moderation only and have alcohol-free days.
  • Stop smoking: smoking doubles your risk of having a stroke. If you’re struggling to quit, get help and support.
  • Manage any underlying conditions: a number of underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, increase your risk of stroke. Managing these conditions appropriately, minimises that increased risk.

High blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for stroke, causing around half of all strokes in the UK. You should make sure that you have your blood pressure checked regularly by your doctor.

Download our stroke prevention poster or healthy living advice leaflet for more information and to share with your family, friends and colleagues.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating healthily can reduce some of the causes of stroke. Make sure that your diet features plenty of fruit and vegetables (aim for five portions per day) and try to include oily fish, such as trout, salmon, sardines and mackerel in meals three times a week.

Replace fatty foods with low fat alternatives. This will help to stop your arteries narrowing, lower cholesterol and also make sure that your weight does not get too high or too low.

Eating less salt and salty foods will help you to control your blood pressure. Watch out for hidden salt in processed food, even in bread and biscuits.

Foods to enjoy:

  • Foods flavoured with herbs, spices and lemons
  • Fresh fish, and fish tinned in water
  • Eggs (3-4 a week)
  • Lean meat, such as chicken and turkey
  • Small amounts of monounsaturated oils and spreads such as olive oil and rapeseed oil
  • Cottage cheese
  • Unsalted crackers and nuts
  • Fresh and dried fruit
  • Home-made soups and stocks
  • Potatoes, brown pasta & rice
  • High fibre or low salt bread
  • Whole-grain breakfast cereals, such as porridge and unsweetened muesli
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables, beans & lentils

Foods to reduce:

  • Salt (for cooking only)
  • Fish tinned in brine and smoked fish
  • Canned and salted meat, bacon and sausages
  • Butter, oils, full fat spreads and cream
  • Hard cheese
  • Crisps and dips
  • Salted nuts
  • Sweet biscuits
  • Packet soups, stock cubes and sauces
  • Chips, pastries and cakes
  • Sweetened or high salt cereals, such as cornflakes
  • Ready meals

Take regular moderate exercise

Physical activity can be a life saver – literally. If you’re active 30-60 minutes a day, most days of the week, you dramatically lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way to maintain a healthy weight, and regular exercise can also help lower your cholesterol and keep your blood pressure healthy.

You don’t have to run a marathon, just a 30 minute walk a day could make a big difference to your health. Why not see if friends or family members would like to join you for a stroll?

Before taking part in any new exercise activity, you should first consult your GP, Nurse or other health professional.


Drink sensibly

Alcohol is high in calories and can lead to obesity and high blood pressure, both common causes of stroke.

To stay healthy, you should keep within sensible drinking limits. The UK Chief Medical Officers’ guideline for both men and women is that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. A unit of alcohol is equivalent to half a pint of lager, cider or beer OR 1 single spirit OR 1 glass of wine.

It is also recommended that alcohol is consumed with food, not on an empty stomach and that you have at least two alcohol-free days per week. Try not to drink to wind down or deal with problems.

Stop smoking

Smokers are twice as likely to have a stroke as non-smokers. Stopping, or cutting down, smoking will reduce your risk of stroke, as well as providing many other health and financial benefits:

  • Ask family and friends to support you
  • Stay away from places where you will be offered cigarettes
  • Remember the benefits to you and your family
  • Join a stop smoking group
  • Use self-help books
  • Go to your doctor about nicotine replacement on prescription, such as chewing gums, sprays and patches

All GPs have a specialist nurse who will provide support and treatment if you are looking to quit smoking. The NHS also offers a Stop Smoking Service.

Manage underlying conditions

A number of underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, increase your risk of stroke. By keeping these conditions under control and managing them appropriately, you minimise that increased risk.

Click here to download our healthy living leaflet.