As a self-confessed gym bunny and healthy eater, I’m a believer of doing all we can to keep our bodies fit, strong and healthy (although don’t get me wrong, I love my treats – it’s all about balance right?!)
But until I made a career move a few years ago to the UK’s leading stroke charity, I’d never really considered my risk of stroke. I’d always thought that it was something that just happened to older people. In fact, was it even on my radar at all?
Of course, it should have been. Around a quarter of strokes happen in people of working age and there are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year; that’s around one stroke every five minutes.
Fortunately, most strokes can be prevented. Although anyone can have a stroke, there are things that make some people at more risk than others. It’s important to know what the risk factors are and do what you can to reduce them.
Six simple things to reduce your risk:
Did you know you’re twice as likely to die from stroke if you smoke? Stopping smoking is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk. Smoking damages your arteries and makes your blood more likely to clot, which can cause a stroke. Smokers are also more likely to develop high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor. Giving up isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort to improve your health.
Drink less alcohol
Don’t get me wrong, I love an espresso martini as much as the next person, but drinking too much alcohol raises your blood pressure and if your blood pressure is too high, it puts a strain on your arteries and heart, which can lead to stroke.
Binge drinking is particularly dangerous as it can cause your blood pressure to rise very quickly. As a general rule, the Department of Health says that men and women shouldn’t drink more than 14 units per week and you should avoid drinking a lot in a single session. Because alcohol has a toxic effect on your body, doctors recommend that you should have two or three alcohol-free days a week, to help it recover.
Stay a healthy weight
Being overweight puts you at risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, all of which increase your risk of a stroke. It’s not just how much weight you carry, but how you carry it as well. If you carry your extra weight around your waist you are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes or other health problems, so it’s even more important to make sure you’re a healthy weight.
Do more exercise
We all know exercise is great for your health - it plays a vital role in reducing your risk of stroke and can improve your overall wellbeing. Regular exercise can help to lower your blood pressure and help you maintain a healthy weight. Research shows that regular moderate exercise can reduce your risk of stroke by 27%. Any amount of exercise will help, but if you can, you should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more times a week. You can choose any form of exercise as long as the activity increases your heart rate and makes you feel warm and a little out of breath.
Manage your medical conditions
Some medical problems can increase your risk of having a stroke, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation. It’s important to have regular check-ups with your GP to make sure that you don’t have any of these conditions and to get the right treatment if you do.
Eat a healthy diet
Even making small changes to your eating habits can make a difference to your overall health. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help to lower your blood pressure and control diabetes. We should all get a variety of fruit, vegetables, starchy food and protein in our diet but some top tips are from the Stroke Association are here
There are some other factors that can increase the risk of stroke in women:
High levels of the female hormone oestrogen can make your blood more likely to clot. Your oestrogen levels rise naturally when you are pregnant, but there are also hormone treatments that will cause it to rise, such as contraceptive pills and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Generally the risk of stroke due to pregnancy or hormone treatments is low, but if you’re concerned, or have any other risk factors, make sure you talk to your GP about it.
Some studies have shown that women who have certain types of migraines are at a slightly higher risk of having a stroke.
It’s important to note I’m not a medical professional, and anyone concerned about their risk of stroke should speak to their GP. For more information about reducing your stroke risk, visit www.stroke.org.uk
By Victoria Hall