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5 ways to reduce your risk of stroke

In honor of Stroke Awareness Month, we reviewed the signs and symptoms of strokes in our last blog from April 26 (Act F.A.S.T. in response to stroke | Illinois Extension | UIUC). We also discussed the importance of acting F.A.S.T. and calling 9-1-1 right away.  While emergency medical care is critical for treating strokes, prevention is even better! Experts believe that as many as 4 out of 5 strokes can be avoided through healthy lifestyles and behaviors. 

Many of these healthy behaviors reduce stroke risks by protecting the health of our arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to our brain and other parts of our body. Conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can damage the arteries that supply blood to the brain and increase our risks of stroke. 

For example, when blood pressure is high, the extra pressure may cause an artery in the brain to rupture, resulting in a hemorrhagic stroke.  Additionally, high blood pressure stretches our arteries and causes tiny tears. Our bodies attempt to fix these tears by patching them up with scar tissue. Unfortunately, the scar tissue acts as a trap for fatty deposits called plaques. As these fatty plaques build up and harden, they may lead to blood clots and restrict blood flow to the brain, causing an ischemic stroke.  

Fatty plaques can also result from artery damage caused by high blood sugar4 or high levels of LDL cholesterol. You may have heard that there are “good” and “bad” kinds of cholesterol. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol that forms fatty plaques in our arteries.  HDL cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol. It carries some of the LDL cholesterol from our blood to the liver so it can be eliminated from our bodies.  As a result, HDL cholesterol can help protect us from strokes while high levels of LDL cholesterol increase our stroke risk.  

So how do we take care of our arteries and reduce our risks of stroke? Here are five tips! 

  1. See your doctor for regular checkups.  Your doctor will check your blood pressure and do tests to determine if you have high cholesterol or diabetes. If you have any of these conditions, your doctor will help you identify options for managing them. This guide from the American Heart Association can help you prepare for your visit. 

  2. Nourish yourself with healthy foods. Eating a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol can help prevent the buildup of LDL cholesterol in your arteries. In addition, limiting salt can help lower blood pressure. The DASH diet is often recommended to lower blood pressure and improve heart health.   

  3. Be active. Regular physical activity can help lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent or delay diabetes, further reducing stroke risk. Current guidelines recommend 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week for adults. Walking at a brisk pace is a good way to meet these recommendations. For more ways to get moving, visit: As always, check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen.  

  4. Limit alcohol intake. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure. It can also increase a type of fat called triglycerides, which contributes to the buildup of fatty plaques in arteries along with LDL cholesterol and other substances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend limiting daily alcohol intake to one drink or less for women and two drinks or less for men.  

  5. Stay away from tobacco. The nicotine in tobacco raises blood pressure. Smoking also damages blood vessels and leads to the buildup of fatty plaques in arteries.  Carbon monoxide from cigarettes limits the amount of oxygen carried in your blood. If you use tobacco, quitting will lower your risk of stroke. For resources to help you quit, visit:  

Closing comments 

As with many other conditions, eating well, exercising, limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco, and working with your doctor to manage medical conditions can lower your risk of stroke. By taking these steps, you can help protect yourself from a stroke this May and every month!   

However, it is also important to know that some risk factors for stroke (like age, race, sex, or family history) cannot be modified through healthy lifestyles and behaviors. If you would like to know more about these risk factors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Stroke Association provide valuable information. 

Source: This post was written by Lisa Duberowski, Master of Public Health student, working with Kristin Bogdonas, nutrition and wellness educator, serving Henry, Mercer, Rock Island and Stark Counties.


  1. Williamson, L. (2021, May 5). 5 critical steps to help prevent a stroke. American Heart Association. 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, March 23). Know your risk for stroke.  

  1. American Stroke Association. (2021, June 12). High blood pressure and stroke.  

  1. American Stroke Association. (2020, January 27). Diabetes and stroke: What you need to know. [Video]. Youtube.  

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, October 24). LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.  

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 5). Prevent stroke: What you can do.