From high blood pressure and excess weight to smoking, alcohol and cholesterol, 80% of strokes -- the leading cause of death among women -- could be avoided by improving the management of certain risk factors. Ahead of World Stroke Day, October 29, here are some preventative measures that could help reduce the risk of stroke and keep the heart healthy.
Limit salt intake
High blood pressure is the main risk factor for stroke. Sticking to the recommended 5g of salt per day would involve spreading the intake as follows, for example: a serving of bread (1.5g to 2g of salt), a portion of cheese (1g), lunch (1g), dinner (1g). Avoiding eating too many products that contain salt -- like ready meals, sauces, soups, cured meats -- can already help reduce intake to 6/8 g per day. For example, if your meal includes a slice of ham, bacon or cured sausage, try switching cheese for yogurt or cream cheese.
Smoking doubles the risk of stroke. To quit for good, specialist medical help -- including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and hypnosis -- as well as support from family and friends will maximize the chances of success. Yoga, exercise and relaxation are recommended to deal with the mood-related side effects (irritability, depression) that often arise around three weeks after quitting.
Keep an eye on cholesterol
Keep an eye on the health of your arteries by checking levels of LDL cholesterol (so-called "bad" cholesterol) in the blood. This should be checked every five years according to specialists. LDL is a risk factor for heart disease and levels should not exceed 1.6g/l. Increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables (three to five portions per day) and oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), which are rich in essential fatty acids (omega-3), helps tackle obesity or excess weight.
Get 30 minutes of exercise per day
Regular exercise is also important for preventing strokes. Taking the stairs, walking, cycling and swimming can all help you stay in shape while also cutting stroke risk. Walking, gardening and cycling two to three times a week are among the most beneficial activities for over 50s, according to a study published in 2015 in Circulation.
Solitude isn't good for the heart or the arteries, as previous scientific research has shown. In 2016, researchers at the University of York in the UK found that lonely or socially isolated people had a 29% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. On the whole, effective management of stress or challenging life events and sound social relationships can help protect the heart.