Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and not eating enough fruit and vegetables all significantly contribute to your chances of having a stroke.
But there are some simple, effective steps you can take to ensure that you lead a much healthier life and avoid the risk of having a stroke:
1 Drink coffee – and green tea
The results of a 13-year study of more than 83,000 Japanese adults, aged 45 to 74, found that those who drank at least one cup of coffee a day had a 20% reduced risk of stroke compared with those who rarely drank coffee.
Those who enjoyed two to three cups of green tea daily saw a 14% reduced risk.
The study, published in US journal Stroke, suggests regularly having both daily to provide the greatest benefit.
2 Enjoy a small drink but quit smoking
A tenth of stroke deaths and a quarter of all strokes are linked to smoking, according to Joe Korner of The Stroke Association .
A Cambridge University study of more than 20,000 people found those who drank moderately – one or two small glasses of wine a day – were nearly 40% less likely to have a stroke than non-drinkers.
But only if they did not smoke. All smokers have a similar risk of stroke, regardless of whether they drink.
3 Be careful with painkillers
Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, like ibuprofen, has been linked to a 40% increased risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a study by the Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
The drug, available on prescription and over the counter, is often given after surgery or to combat arthritic pain.
It might be worth talking to your GP or pharmacist about alternatives.
4 Go Mediterranean
Several studies have found the diet common in countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy offers protection against heart problems and stroke.
If you’re found to be at risk of a heart attack or stroke, eating extra-virgin olive oil or nuts regularly can reduce your risk by nearly a third (30%), says a study published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.
People who eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day cut their risk by more than a quarter compared with those who have less than three.
Eating oily fish twice a week can have a significant impact on reducing stroke risk.
Fish oils, however, don’t, according to analysis of studies involving almost 800,000 people in 15 countries.
5 Walk every day
Long, leisurely strolls are not enough, say Danish researchers. They found the intensity of exercise matters far more than the duration.
In studies, those who went for a fast walk daily were at half the risk of a heart attack or stroke, compared with those who did not take exercise.
Those who said they walked for an hour at a leisurely pace, however, had the same risk as those who were largely inactive.
A separate study, published in the journal Neurology, found the risk of ‘silent’ strokes (minor damage to the brain that can herald a disabling stroke) was reduced by 40% in people who were reasonably active.
6 Get yourself a flu jab
Statistics show 26% of people aged 65 and above – and 49% of those younger and in ‘at-risk’ groups – fail to get their recommended flu jab.
Yet, this can nearly halve the chances of having a heart attack or stroke, regardless of whether or not there is a pre-diagnosed history of heart disease, found Canadian researchers.
It’s still unclear why the flu jab offers so much protection. It’s possibly because the vaccine reduces inflammation, which has been linked to cardiovascular problems.
7 Ditch fizzy drinks
Women who have a fizzy drink every day may be almost doubling their risk of a stroke, according to a study by scientists at Osaka University, Japan.
They found that daily consumption of sugary drinks raises a woman’s chances of suffering a blood clot on the brain.
Bizarrely, the research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found only a slight increase in risk for men.
8 Add sliced tomatoes to every sandwich
A Finnish study suggests that high levels of lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes, may be associated with a significantly reduced risk of stroke.
The analysis, published in Neurology, followed 1,031 Finnish men aged 46 to 55.
Those with the highest lycopene levels were 55% less likely to have a stroke.
9 Sleep tight – all night
Regularly sleeping less than six hours a night increases the risk of stroke among older adults.
Researchers at the University of Alabama, US, found, even after considering BMI and other risk factors, there was a strong link between sleep periods of less than six hours and a greater incidence of stroke symptoms for over 45s.
10 Try 1% milk
Switching to low-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese can reduce the risk of suffering a stroke, Swedish research has shown.
The study found those who ate low-fat dairy produce were 12% less likely to suffer a stroke.
11 Make sure you know your blood pressure
Having slightly raised blood pressure raises the threat of stroke by 80% among younger and middle-aged people, according to a US study in Neurology.
Yet, an estimated third of UK adults with high blood pressure aren’t aware they have it.
Many pharmacies now offer free blood pressure and cholesterol readings – high blood pressure is a level consistently at or above 140mmHg/ 90mmHg (referred to as 140 over 90).
12 Look on the bright side
Scientists at Harvard University, US, say that people with a sunny disposition are far less likely to suffer heart attacks or strokes.
Studies found there was around a 50% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease between those who scored highest for optimism and vitality and emotional vitality was associated with a 28% reduced risk of coronary heart disease.