Preventing another stroke: changes in life style

The risk of having a stroke is higher for people who have had one already and for people who have had a TIA (minor stroke). To reduce the risk people are asked to follow advice on a healthy diet, to exercise, to watch their weight and alcohol intake and, if a smoker, to stop. It is also important to make sure blood pressure is controlled and checked regularly and to take any medication prescribed to help stop blood clotting and reduce cholesterol levels. 

Whilst many people said they had made changes to a healthier lifestyle after their stroke others said they had not because their lifestyle had been healthy anyway. These people did not see their lifestyle as contributing to the cause of their stroke (see 'Causes and risk factors'). Some said that although they knew the healthy lifestyle advice they did not always follow it.

Most of those we interviewed said they did lead a generally healthier lifestyle after their stroke and followed the advice they were given. 

If they had smoked prior to their stroke most gave up immediately which was sometimes made easier by being in hospital. However, two people said they had taken up smoking again, or started for the first time, after their stroke because they felt defiant and angry that leading healthy lives had not prevented a stroke or its recurrence. 

Although most people felt that they had only ever drunk alcohol in moderation a few had to cut back. This could sometimes have an impact on people's social life, although most felt they could still enjoy the company of friends without drinking or drinking less than before. Others only drank moderately on special occasions.

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Diet and healthy eating
As well as taking cholesterol reducing medication many people had been advised to reduce the amount of fat in their diet. Some had also been advised to reduce salt, particularly those with high blood pressure. A few people had also found out that they were diabetic and needed to reduce sugar in their diet. 

It was sometimes hard to know what to cut back on. Some people had got advice from a dietitian or from the nurses in the hospital or local surgery. Generally people said they had cut out fried food and now grilled things instead and that they had cut back on cheese, cakes and biscuits. Some found it best to keep things like sweets and chocolate for special occasions.

A few people said they now used a low fat spread or one that was meant to help reduce cholesterol. For more on and stroke see the Stroke Association's website.

Monitoring blood pressure
People were generally more aware of getting their blood pressure checked and attended a clinic or their doctors regularly. Sometimes people were asked to take a blood pressure monitor home with them, usually because they had an unusually high reading which could possibly have been brought on by worrying about the test. A few people had purchased or had access to machines to monitor their own blood pressure. One man found this very reassuring, but another woman said she had become obsessed with checking her blood pressure which only made her worried.

Although there is no proven link between stress and stroke a few people felt that stress may have contributed to their high blood pressure and had given up stressful jobs or voluntary work. One man who had seen a psychologist used breathing to help reduce stress and others had paid for complementary therapies such as massage and reiki.

The effects of the stroke itself made taking more exercise difficult for some and older people in particular mentioned that they had cut back on activities generally and went out less than they used to. Some explained that although they knew they should exercise they did not because it was too difficult to fit in, or seemed like too much hassle. One person described how he did not exercise much, even though he knew he should, but balanced that with a healthy diet and taking prescribed medications. 

Those who had tried to increase their exercise did so by walking more, using exercise bikes at home, attending a gym or attending special exercise classes for people who have had a stroke.

Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated
June 2017.



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