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Keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy can significantly decrease the risk of most strokes. There are many factors that can affect your cardiovascular health and the more factors you control, the more you reduce your risk of a stroke. Controllable factors include:

Reach and Maintain a Healthy Weight

If you are overweight or obese , talk to your doctor about a plan to lose weight. Adopt a sensible eating plan and exercise regularly. Plan to lose weight gradually, to help you maintain your weight at the desired level. Consider consulting with a dietitian, who can help you with meal planning and portion sizing.

Quit Smoking

Chemicals in tobacco smoke contribute to the build up of plaque in the arteries, increasing your risk of atherosclerosis . Over time, this increases the risk of blood clots, which can reduce or block blood flow to the brain. Smoking can also cause tightening or spasming of blood vessels which can further restrict blood vessels with plaque.

Quitting smoking is the best way to put yourself on the right track. Talk with your doctor about tools and programs to help you quit . Secondhand smoke can be damaging as well, so try to avoid that when possible.

Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Excess alcohol intake is associated with an increased risk of heart arrhythmias, which can affect blood flow to the brain. If you drink alcohol, aim for moderations. Moderate alcohol intake, means two drinks or less per day for men, and one drink or less per day for women. Some studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption be beneficial. You do not have to start drinking to achieve the marginal benefits of alcohol.

Eat a Healthful Diet

Your diet can have a significant impact on your "bad" and "good" cholesterol levels. Managing your cholesterol levels with a well-balanced diet can reduce your risk for a heart attack by reducing the amount of plaque build up.

A well-balanced diet includes plenty of whole grains , fruits and vegetables , and nuts. Also consider substituting bad fats for good fats . This means eating more mono- or polyunsaturated fats like olive and canola oil, and less saturated and trans fats which can raise your bad cholesterol levels.

General recommendations include adding fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids , to your diet at least twice per week. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take omega-3 supplements.

Exercise Regularly

Regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, using a stationary bike, or treadmill, can help reduce the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. In general, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day on most days of the week. If you have a sedentary job, it may be beneficial to aim for 60 minutes of exercise a day. Overall, exercise can help lower blood pressure, enhance blood circulation, increase good cholesterol, and decrease the demands on the heart.

Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Manage Other Health Conditions

Certain medical conditions are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke. While not all risk can be eliminated, carefully managing these conditions can greatly decrease the risk of heart problems.


Hypertension is the biggest risk factor for stroke. If you are being treated for hypertension, adhere to the treatment plan outlined by your doctor. Monitor your blood pressure regularly. Talk to your doctor about checking your blood pressure at home.

Dietary changes, regular exercise, and medications can help you control your blood pressure. The DASH diet is a plan designed to help reduce blood pressure.


High blood glucose levels can increase your risk for a stroke by causing damage to smaller blood vessels and contributing to plaque build up on blood vessels walls. Managing blood glucose levels may delay cardiovascular problems that contribute to stroke. If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to develop a plan to manage your blood glucose levels.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is characterized by repeated episodes of complete or partial airway obstruction during sleep. The disorder is associated with disrupted sleep patterns and decreased oxygen supply. OSA has been linked to several cardiovascular disorders, as well as early death. Complications of OSA include hypertension, heart failure, diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. Work with your doctor to decrease the incidence or severity of your sleep apnea. This may include using a CPAP machine or surgery.

Daily Aspirin

Ask your doctor whether taking a daily aspirin is right for you. If you are at high risk for stroke, aspirin may prevent one. Since aspirin therapy is not without risk, be sure to consult with your doctor before taking an aspirin a day.


Bushnell C, McCullough LD, Awad IA, et al. Guidelines for the prevention of stroke in women: a statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2014;45(5):1545-1588. Available at: Accessed June 16, 2014.

Furie KL, Kasner SE, Adams RJ, et al. Guidelines for the Prevention of Stroke in Patients With Stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack: A Guideline for Healthcare Professionals From the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2011;42(1):227-276. Available at: Accessed June 16, 2014.

Grau AJ, Barth C, Geletneky B, et al. Association between recent sports activity, sports activity in young adulthood, and stroke. Stroke. 2009;40(2):426-431.

How can a stroke be prevented? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: Updated March 26, 2014. Accessed June 17, 2014.

Prevention of stroke. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated June 8, 2016. Accessed October 5, 2016.

8/27/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Corella D, Carrasco P, Sorli J, et al. Mediterranean diet reduces the adverse effect of the TCF7L2-rs7903146 polymortphism on cardiovascular risk factors and stroke incidence. Diabetes Care. 2013;6(1):3803-3811.

12/15/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Ekelund U, Steene-Johannessen J, Brown WJ. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. Lancet 2016;388(10051):1302-1310.

Last reviewed December 2015 by Rimas Lukas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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