Preventing strokes 

The best way to help prevent a stroke is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

These lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of problems such as atherosclerosis (where arteries become clogged up by fatty substances), high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, all of which are important risk factors for strokes.

If you have already had a stroke, making these changes can help reduce your risk of having another one in the future.


An unhealthy diet can increase your chances of having a stroke because it may lead to an increase in your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Therefore, a low-fat, high-fibre diet is usually recommended, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains.

Ensuring a balance in your diet is important. Don’t eat too much of any single food – particularly foods that are high in salt and processed foods.

You should limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g (0.2oz) a day because too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Six grams of salt is about one teaspoonful.

Read more about healthy eating and losing weight.


Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way to maintain a healthy weight, and regular exercise can also help lower your cholesterol level and keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

For most people, at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week is recommended.

If you are recovering from a stroke, you should discuss possible exercise plans with the members of your rehabilitation team. Regular exercise may not be possible in the first weeks or months following a stroke but you should be able to begin exercising once your rehabilitation has progressed.

Read more about health and fitness.

Stop smoking

Smoking significantly increases your risk of having a stroke. This is because it narrows your arteries and makes your blood more likely to clot.

If you stop smoking, you can reduce your risk of having a stroke. Not smoking will also improve your general health and reduce your risk of developing other serious conditions, such as lung cancer and heart disease.

The NHS Smoking Helpline can offer advice and encouragement to help you quit smoking. You can call on 0300 123 1044, or visit NHS Smokefree.

Read more about stopping smoking.

Cut down on alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure and trigger irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), both of which can increase your risk of having a stroke.

Because alcoholic drinks are high in calories they also cause weight gain. Heavy drinking multiplies the risk of stroke by more than three times.

If you choose to drink alcohol and have fully recovered, you should aim not to exceed the recommended limits:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

If you have not fully recovered from your stroke, you may find that you will have become particularly sensitive to alcohol and even the recommended safe limits as above for the general population may be too much for you. 

Read more about drinking and alcohol.

Managing underlying conditions

If you have been diagnosed with a condition known to increase your risk of stroke – such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, diabetes or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) – ensuring the condition is well controlled is also important in helping prevent strokes.

The lifestyle changes mentioned above can help control these conditions to a large degree, but you may also need to take regular medication.

For more information, see:


Atherosclerosis is a thickening of the walls of the arteries. Find out how it affects the body, the risk factors involved, prevention and treatment.

Media last reviewed: 22/04/2015

Next review due: 22/04/2017

Page last reviewed: 08/09/2014

Next review due: 08/09/2016