Small, healthy changes in your daily routine can decrease your risk for another stroke. Making changes is always challenging. Your healthcare team can help you figure out what risk factors you should focus on first and set goals that you can reach.
Don't try to change yourself overnight. Start with something that is relatively easy and build on your successes
Healthy food choices
Even small changes to your diet can add up to big health benefits. Balanced meals and healthy snacks will help you:
- increase your intake of healthy foods
- manage your weight
- keep your blood pressure down
- control your blood sugar levels
- lower your cholesterol
- increase your energy level
All of these factors reduce your risk of stroke. If you need help making healthy choices, consult a dietitian. Here are some tips on healthy eating:
Eat more vegetables and fruit
Vegetables and fruit are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. They are low in calories, fat and salt (sodium). They help to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight.
Choose foods high in fibre
The best sources of fibre are vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as lentils. Fibre will help to reduce your cholesterol, lower your blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight.
Lower sodium intake
Reducing salt (sodium) in your diet can bring down your blood pressure and cut your risk of stroke and heart disease by about a third. Most sodium comes from packaged food and eating out. Here are some tips to help reduce salt.
Limit or avoid:
Choose healthy fats
Fats are not all the same. Saturated and trans fats raise cholesterol levels. Other types of fat or oil called unsaturated fats can help prevent plaque from building up in your blood vessels.
Limit or avoid:
Eat less added sugar
Added sugar provides energy in the form of calories, but it has no other nutritional value. If we do not use the calories, we store them in the form of fat. There is no specific amount of sugar recommended as part of a healthy diet. Eat less sugar to maintain a healthy weight.
Limit or avoid:
Eat moderate portions
Limiting your portion size is a good idea, whether you are at home or in a restaurant.
- Use smaller plates, bowls, and cups.
- Fill up half of your plate with vegetables (not counting potatoes). Fill a quarter of the plate with whole grains such as brown rice or whole grain pasta. The last quarter of the plate is for meat or meat alternatives such as beans, tofu or low-fat cheese.
- Avoid supersized portions and second helpings.
- In restaurants, you can choose appetizer portions. You can also ask for a small portion or plan to take some home.
Be more active
Regular physical activity for 150 minutes or more a week is a great way to maintain a healthy weight, reduce high blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, manage diabetes and manage stress. It can cut the risk of heart disease and stroke by 30%.
Talk to your healthcare team about the right way for you to get active. The team will factor in your abilities, your health and your interests. They will help you to come up with a plan that is enjoyable and safe. Ask about programs in your community that would meet your needs and abilities.
No matter what your state of health, there is something you can do to stay active. Maybe you can do yoga or tai chi. Maybe you can go for more walks. There are exercises you can do from a chair or in bed.
Start with 10-15 minute sessions. Increase the time, frequency and intensity as you grow stronger. Eventually, you can work toward the recommended 150 minutes total per week.
Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke increase the risk of stroke. Twenty minutes after your last cigarette your blood pressure and heart rate will drop, reducing your risk. Quitting will decrease the plaque in your blood vessels.
Quitting is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of another stroke. You might be afraid that quitting will be too hard, but there is lots of help available to you when you are ready. Here are some tips to get started:
- Think through the pros and cons of quitting. Try to imagine how much better you would feel and how proud you would be if you could quit.
- Understand your smoking habits. Smoking is an emotional as well as a physical habit. What are the triggers that give you the urge?
- Make a plan for quitting. Your healthcare team can tell you about programs to support you. Call 1-866-366-3667 to talk to someone about quitting. There are lots of helpful booklets and online programs.
- Your healthcare team can help with nicotine replacement and other therapies.
- Involve your family and friends for support.
Drink less alcohol
Heavy drinking and binge drinking are risk factors for high blood pressure and stroke. Alcohol may also cause problems by interacting with your medications.
If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to small amounts, pace yourself and drink plenty of water at the same time. [Note: New low-risk drinking guidelines have been released and are being reviewed.]
Talk to your healthcare team if you would like to find a program to help you deal with alcohol problems.
Quit recreational drug use
Recreational drug use increases your risk of another stroke. Talk to your healthcare team about programs in your community to help you quit.
We know that some people who have high levels of stress or prolonged stress have higher cholesterol or blood pressure. They may be more prone to narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis), a stroke risk factor.
Here are some tips for managing stress:
- Ask yourself what causes your stress. If you are aware of its cause, can you eliminate it? If not, find ways to manage it?
- Talk about your feelings to family, friends or a healthcare team member.
- Do things that you find relaxing, such as listening to music, reading, walking or meditation.