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How to reduce your risk of a stroke

Posted on 07 May 2021


What is a stroke?

A stroke is a brain attack. It happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, killing brain cells. Damage to the brain can affect how the body works. It can also change how you think and feel.

How common is it?

There are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year, that’s around one stroke every five minutes. It’s often thought of a condition that affects older people, but in fact a quarter of all strokes happen to people aged 18-65 who may feel fit and healthy.

The good news is that you can help to reduce your risk of a stroke by making some healthy lifestyle choices. Whether it’s your diet, activity levels, smoking or drinking, it’s never too late to make a change.

How can I reduce my risk?

Some factors which affect your risk of stroke are age, family history, or ethnicity. Other health conditions can also increase your likelihood of suffering stroke like high blood pressure or diabetes. To manage these, it’s important to monitor your health and take advice from medical professionals on your level of risk.

In England, people aged 40-74 can have the NHS Health Check, which looks for early signs of health problems including stroke risk. If you’re worried about your health, go to your nurse or GP. A local pharmacist can also give advice and do some health checks.

Lifestyle factors

Stroke risk can be increased by things we do in everyday life, including:

Smoking - Smoking doubles your risk of dying from a stroke. But the minute you quit, your risk of a stroke starts to drop right away. Check out our guide How to quit smoking for handy tips.

Being overweight – Excess weight is linked to health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, all of which increase your risk of stroke. If your waist is larger than 94cm (37 inches) in men, or 80cm (31.5 inches) in women you could be overweight. You can also use BMI to check if you are the right weight for your height – try the NHS BMI calculator here.

Drinking too much alcohol - Regularly drinking too much alcohol raises your risk of a stroke. The UK government advises that to keep health risks low, it’s best to drink no more than 14 units a week, and to spread the units over the week. The limit is the same for men and women.

Not getting much exercise – Aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. This is anything that raises your heart rate, and makes you breathe faster and feel warmer, like brisk walking or cycling. Take a look at Exercising for beginners for advice on getting started.

Eating unhealthy food – A balanced diet helps to maintain a healthy weight and provides your body with everything it needs to function properly. For information on spotting hidden sugars, salt and fat, plus healthy recipe ideas, visit  

It’s important to be aware of your risk of stroke and know what you can do to reduce it. If you have any risk factors such as being overweight or smoking, or have a health condition linked to stroke, contact your GP for advice about any checks you need.

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