How can you prevent a stroke?
A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. When that happens, brain cells can be deprived of oxygen, potentially causing permanent damage. Strokes are of different types — Ischaemic, Haemorrhagic or Transient ischemic attack (TIA). Learn in detail about the types of stroke.
A stroke can occur at any age and can be caused by factors such as age, family history and gender, existing medical conditions and poor lifestyle habits that cause high blood pressure and narrowing of arteries over time.
A quick test to identify a stroke is to ask the person to smile, raise both arms or say a simple sentence. If any of these pose a problem, seek help by calling 000 as a matter of urgency. Learn more about warning signs of stroke.
More than 445,087 Australians are living with the effects of stroke, which is a leading cause of disability in the country. A significant stroke can result in permanent disability. In fact, in 2020, a third of stroke events resulted in disability, affecting the person’s ability to independently carry out activities of daily living. However, more than 4 in 5 strokes are preventable.
Are there ways to prevent strokes?
While factors such as age, family history and gender are out of our control, we can control our lifestyle choices to prevent strokes.
By adopting a healthy diet and exercising regularly, as well as avoiding smoking and alcohol, we can prevent clogged arteries, high cholesterol, high blood-pressure and ultimately, prevent stroke.
For someone who has already experienced stroke or a TIA, there is a higher risk of a further episode. However, by introducing changes today, that risk can be minimised.
Stroke prevention tips
First up, limit the amount of salt, sugar, saturated and trans fats in your diet.
Change your diet
Too much salt in our diet is a risk factor for high blood-pressure. Interestingly, it’s not its use in the kitchen that’s the biggest problem, it’s processed foods that are often packed with salt. Always check the labels of your groceries, and opt for no added salt, salt reduced or low salt foods.
Sugar itself doesn’t cause diabetes, but it’s present in large amounts in high-calorie foods, which in turn can cause people to gain weight. This, in turn, can cause diabetes, which then prevents your body from processing food properly. High glucose levels, in turn, can then damage the body’s blood vessels, which increases the risk of stroke.
We know that sweet treats are packed with sugar, but it’s easy to be caught out by all the products sugar can be hidden in, including cereals (even the apparently ‘healthy’ ones), pizza and pasta sauces, savoury snacks, dressings, condiments, yoghurts and even breads.
Saturated fats are found in fatty cuts of meat, processed meats and dairy products, as well as things like coconut milk and coconut cream. They’re also a key feature of deep-fried and snack foods, like pizza, chips and crackers, pastries, pies, cakes and biscuits.
Trans fats are unsaturated fats that, because of how they’ve been processed, actually increase the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and decrease the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in our bodies. They’re found in many processed foods, as well as butter and some margarines.
Aim for a low-fat and high-fibre diet, which prioritises fresh fruit and vegetables and wholegrains.
Impact of exercise on stroke prevention
The combination of a healthy diet and a regular exercise regime is key to stroke prevention. Through regular exercise, you can actually help to reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure.
Australia’s Stroke Foundation recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most (preferably all) days of the week. That could be anything from cycling to fast walking, aerobics or swimming – whatever you choose to do.
Exercise is still important, even when you’ve already had a stroke. Your rehab team will be able to advise on what’s safe and achievable for your individual circumstances.
Change your lifestyle habits
It’s crucial to avoid smoking to prevent stroke, as smoking narrows your arteries and increases the risk of blood clots. Heavy alcohol consumption can also lead to high blood pressure and trigger atrial fibrillation – both of which can increase your stroke risk.
The Australian Guidelines on alcohol consumption suggest that both men and women should not exceed more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
How Mable can support
If you or someone you know has experienced stroke and needs some support with day to day activities such as meal preparation or exercise, you can book an independent support worker through Mable. Find out more about how a support worker can assist post-stroke. You can use your NDIS funding to pay for support through Mable.