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Modifying your lifestyle

In addition to taking medication, people can reduce their risk of having a further stroke by modifying their lifestyles. These measures are very important and are also effective in reducing the risk of a heart attack.
Lifestyle changes people should consider include:

  • giving up smoking
  • cutting down on alcohol
  • exercising
  • healthy eating
  • losing weight
  • reducing salt intake


Giving up smoking

Smoking causes a 2 -3 fold increases in the risk of a stroke and about 1 in 4 strokes can be directly attributable to smoking. The risk increases with higher cigarette consumption. Cigar and pipe smoking is also suspected to cause strokes though the risk is greater for causing heart attacks. Cigarette smoke contains substances that constrict blood vessels, promotes the deposition of atherosclerotic plaques and makes the blood thicker and more prone to clot. It has been suggested that half of all smokers may die as a result of smoking. It is estimated that between 1998 and 2002, smoking caused an average of 86,500 deaths a year in the UK.

The good news is that the risk of strokes declines greatly within 2 to 5 years of quitting. Studies suggest that stopping smoking may reduce the risk of a stroke by one and a half times. This effect is even stronger in younger people.

The main reason that people want to quit is because of health problems. Some people do it for their children or other family members. The high cost of smoking may also be a motive.

Nicotine in cigarette smoke is highly addictive and withdrawal causes craving. Giving up smoking within a group or with the support of family and friends, can make a big difference to motivation and determination to quit. Some medicines can help reduce physical withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is the name given to medicines that release nicotine into the bloodstream to help reduce craving and help wean people off cigarettes. Zyban is another drug may help people give up smoking.

Find out more about Smoking Cessation and the support available in Gloucestershire.


Sensible drinking and alcohol limits

Modest consumption of alcohol (up to about 2 small drinks a day) may actually protect against strokes. Heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor and can lead to strokes particularly cerebral haemorrhage by raising the blood pressure and causing blood vessels to burst. Binge drinking is particularly harmful.
British recommendations are up to two to three units of alcohol a day for women and three to four units for men. It's a good idea to have two or to three alcohol-free days each week. One unit is 8g of alcohol. Often units are quoted as being one small glass of wine, half a pint of beer or one pub measure of spirits. However, some stronger beers and lagers may contain as many as 2.5 units of alcohol per half pint. The size of some drinks may also vary; a large glass of wine may have 2 units of alcohol or more.

Typical Unit Content of Common Drinks:


Standard (175ml) glass of wine - 2 units  
Large (250ml) glass of wine - 3 units  
Pint of standard lager - 2.3 units  
Pint of premium lager - 2.8 units  
Pint of strong cider - 4.7 units  

Further information from Alcohol Concern

Read more about the advice and support available in Gloucestershire



Regular exercise helps reduce the risk of a stroke and research has shown that stroke survivors can benefit from exercise. The beneficial effects have been shown in physiological, psychological, strength, endurance, and functional outcomes. Moreover, data from studies involving stroke subjects have documented the beneficial impact of regular physical activity on multiple cardiovascular disease risk factors and provided evidence that such benefits are likely to reduce risk of dying from stroke and cardiac events.

Regular physical activity helps to lower blood pressure, improves the balance of blood fats and improves the body’s ability to handle insulin. These observations make recommendations for stroke survivors to participate in regular physical activity highly compelling. Major rehabilitation goals for the stroke patient are preventing complications of prolonged inactivity, decreasing recurrent stroke and cardiovascular events, and increasing aerobic fitness.

The debilitating motor effects of a stroke can markedly reduce mechanical efficiency and increase the energy cost of walking up to 2 times that of able-bodied persons. Even common household tasks, such as bed making and vacuuming, are associated with considerably greater energy requirements.

This can lead to further decreased activity and greater exercise intolerance, leading to secondary complications such as reduced cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle wasting, osteoporosis, and impaired circulation In addition, diminished self- reliance, greater dependence on others and reduced ability for normal societal interactions can have a profound negative psychological impact.

Consequently, rehabilitation programs designed to optimize functional performance in stroke survivors increasingly have incorporated aerobic exercise training, with and without partial body weight–supported walking, to improve strength and timing of muscle activations and cardiorespiratory fitness.

For stroke prevention and for stroke survivors, things like walking, dancing, swimming, cycling, tennis or golf are useful. Gardening and housework are also good exercise. Any exercise that makes a person slightly out of breath is useful. Just 30 minutes of activity five days a week is considered enough to reduce the risk of stroke.

Read more about keeping active


Healthy eating after a stroke

Dietary modification is very important both to prevent strokes and to prevent further vascular events (strokes and heart attacks). This is achieved through weight loss (up to nine percent of body weight) and in turn reduction of the blood pressure.

Eating more fruit and vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of a heart attack and stroke. The combination of a low fat diet and consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces the blood pressure further.

Salt reduction also leads to significant drop in the blood pressure. For further information, please click on the links below.

Reducing your blood cholesterol (British Heart Foundation leaflet)

Healthy eating diet sheet (British Hypertension Society)

So you want to lose weight for good (British Heart Foundation leaflet)