Did you know that 80% of strokes are preventable?
Strokes are the third most common cause of death in Australia and one of the leading causes of disability1. Approximately every nineteen minutes, an Australian will have a stroke, but according to the Stroke Foundation, 80% are preventable2—which is why we all need to do what we can to reduce our risk.
A stroke can affect anyone, and at any age. It occurs when your brain cannot get enough oxygen and important nutrients and is usually because of a blood clot or sudden bleed, which reduces the blood supply.
There are many factors that can increase your risk of a stroke, some of which you cannot change, but many can be avoided.
Dr Priya Chagan, General Manager of Health Services at leading Australian life insurer, TAL, says that National Stroke Week (7-13 August 2023) is the perfect time to remind Australians that simple lifestyle changes can help to reduce the risk of a stroke.
Here, she shares her advice on how to minimise your risk.
Check your blood pressure
Having persistently high blood pressure can damage the walls of blood vessels throughout the body, including the brain, which can then burst leading to a bleed in the brain. It can cause blood clots or plaques to break off artery walls and block a brain artery and it can speed up common forms of heart disease, such as irregular heart rhythm, which can lead to clots forming and travelling to the brain. Regular preventative health checks with your doctor can ensure that high blood pressure is detected and treated before it becomes a problem. You can also access a free health check through the SiSU Health Station.
Avoid smoking or vaping
Both smoking and vaping increase your risk of stroke by damaging blood vessel walls, increasing blood pressure, reducing the amount of oxygen in your blood and increasing the likelihood of clots. Quitting smoking or vaping can be a challenge but Doctors on Demand can help with free smoking cessation consultations and resources. Your doctor will also be able to provide you with options and guidance.
Be sure to move your body
One of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy weight and good cardiovascular fitness is to be more active. Being inactive can increase your risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.
The Australian Government’s physical activity and exercise guidelines recommends adults to aim for at least 30 mins of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week. This could be walking or riding a bike instead of driving, catching up with friends by going for a walk, playing social sport—ideally an activity that increases your heart rate and makes you feel warm.
At the end of the day, every movement counts and the physical activity does not necessarily have to be structured. Even the smallest changes into your daily routine can make a lasting difference. By keeping active, you will notice that not only does exercise assist in the maintenance of a healthy weight, but it will also boost your overall mental health and energy levels.
Make healthier food choices
Regularly consuming foods high in saturated or trans fats, as well as foods high in sodium, can increase your risk of a stroke. Making healthier food choices not only helps maintain a healthy weight but it also helps maintain healthy blood glucose levels. A healthy, well-balanced diet incorporates a variety of food groups in the right portion sizes, while avoiding the regular consumption of processed or packaged foods, added salt and sugars. To understand what a healthier diet might look like for you, you can speak with your doctor, a dietician, or refer to the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
Go easy on the alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk of stroke by contributing to high blood pressure and weight gain. Drinking alcohol can make it hard to control blood sugar levels and increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Excessive alcohol intake can also trigger atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat, which increases your risk of stroke. Remember, your doctor can provide information on the impact that alcohol may have in your situation.
There are other risk factors that may affect your risk of stroke—including age, family history, other medical conditions and certain medications. Regular preventative health checks are a great way to get the information and support you to reduce your risk of stroke.
This is not health advice for people who have had a stroke. For support and information on reducing your risk of stroke, speak with your GP or visit Stroke Foundation.