- Moderate exercise can reduce your risk of stroke by up to 27%
- Physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk of an ischaemic stroke by 50%
- Being overweight increases your risk of ischaemic stroke by 22%
- Being obese increases your risk of ischaemic stroke by 64%.
Diet and Stroke
Making just a few changes to your diet can also help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. The average adult in the UK consumes more fat and less fruit and vegetables than the European average, and only 15% of UK adults meet the ‘5-a-day’ target. Given that a heart-healthy diet is high in nutrients and fibre and low in sugar and saturated fat, there's definitely room for improvement for most adults in the UK. Research shows a clear ‘dose-related’ association between fruit and vegetable consumption and stroke risk, meaning that a predominantly whole food plant-based diet is one of the best ways to help keep your heart healthy. This kind of diet provides plenty of antioxidants and other phytonutrients, healthy fats and lots of fibre.
Lowering Cholesterol to Reduce Stroke Risk
Eating a fibre-rich diet is a great way to help satisfy your appetite so you can achieve and maintain your target weight without constantly feeling hungry. Fibre, which is only found in plant foods, also helps to keep low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in check, so getting your 5-a-day is important. High levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Recommended levels of cholesterol and triglycerides for adults are as follows (measurements are given in milligrams per decilitre of blood):
- LDL: 70-130 mg/dL (the lower, the better)
- HDL: more than 40-60 mg/dL (the higher, the better)
- Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL (the lower, the better)
- Triglycerides: 10-150 mg/dL (the lower, the better).
In addition to eating a diet with plentiful fibre from plants, and cutting back on sugars and animal-derived foods that tend to contain higher amounts of saturated fats, you can also improve your cholesterol and triglyceride levels by exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and minimising alcohol intake.
Nutrients for a Healthy Heart and Blood Vessels
The risk of heart disease and stroke has also been found to be lower in people who have a good intake of vitamin E, folate and omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin E is a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant that helps to protect cell membranes against free radical attack, thereby supporting the health of the heart and blood vessels. In one study involving 39,242 participants aged 40-79, women with the highest levels of vitamin E in their blood had a 65% lower incidence of total stroke than those with the lowest levels (Nagao et al., 2012). Other research has found that people with low vitamin E levels have an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, most likely because vitamin E has an anticoagulant effect and guards against atherosclerosis (Cangemi et al., 2013). Folate, a nutrient found in leafy green vegetables and in fortified foods, is also an important nutrient for stroke prevention. Population research found that a folate intake of 300 mcg or more per day, compared to less than 136 mcg, was associated with a 20% and 13% decrease in the risk of stroke and cardiovascular events (Bazzano et al., 2002).
Omega-3 and Stroke
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, likely because omega-3 can help balance blood lipids, lessen inflammation and decrease the risk of blood clots forming. In an Italian study known as the GISSI Prevention Trial, the risk of sudden cardiac death was reduced by almost 50% in heart attack survivors who took 1000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids every day for three years. The omega-3 group were also less likely to have a second heart attack, stroke, or to die suddenly compared to people who took a placebo. Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamin E, are present in nuts and seeds, which are a recommended component of a heart-healthy diet. Omega-3 can also be found in algal oil supplements and in fatty fish or fish oil supplements.*
*Anyone who is taking anti-platelet or anticoagulant medications should talk to their physician before using omega-3 supplements.
Bazzano, L.A., He, J., Ogden, L.G., et al. (2002). Dietary intake of folate and risk of stroke in US men and women: NHANES I epidemiolgic follow-up study. Stroke, 33(5), 1183-8. Cangemi, R., Pignatelli, P., Carnevale, R., et al. (2013). Cholesterol-adjusted vitamin E serum levels are associated with cardiovascular events in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation. Int J Cardiol, 168(4), 3241-7. Heart and Stroke Foundation, Statistics. Accessed February 15, 2016. Available: http://www.heartandstroke.com/site/c.ikIQLcMWJtE/b.3483991/k.34A8/Statistics.htm Nagao, M., Moriyama, Y., Yamagishi, K., et al. (2012). Relation of serum a- and ?-tocopherol levels to cardiovascular disease-related mortality among Japanese men and women. J Epidemiol, 22(5):402-10. Stroke Association (2016). State of the Nation - Stroke Statistics. Accessed February 15, 2016. Available:https://www.stroke.org.uk/sites/default/files/state_of_the_nation_2016_110116_0.pdf