17 Surprising Habits That Increase Your Risk of a Stroke
Change these behaviors to avoid making a stroke more likely than it needs to be.
Each year, around 795,000 Americans have a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The good news is, there are many ways to lower your risk of you becoming one of them. In fact, the CDC even notes that some 80 percent of strokes are preventable. The habits you'll need to nix in order to lower your risk, however, might surprise you. For example, did you know that drinking just one diet soda a day could make you more than twice as likely to suffer from a stroke? Or that sitting at a desk for too long could impact more than just your muscles? Read on to find out more about these surprising habits that increase your risk of a stroke.
Consuming too much salt
Indulging in too many salty snacks can raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels and increase your risk of having a stroke. That's because high blood pressure can damage and weaken your brain's blood vessels, causing them to narrow, rupture, or leak. It can also cause blood clots to form in the arteries leading to the brain, which can block blood flow and potentially cause a stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In addition to notoriously high-sodium foods, you'll also want to avoid sneakier culprits like canned soups and vegetables and bread. When in doubt, check the label. Try to stay under 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (and move toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams), according to the American Heart Association.
Eating the wrong type of breakfast
If a sugary cereal or a pile of pancakes is your breakfast of choice, you could be increasing your chances of suffering from an ischemic stroke—which is caused by a blood clot or plaque that blocks blood vessels in the brain.
A 2017 study published in the journal Stroke found that people who regularly started their day with whole grain cold breakfast cereal or total bran were significantly less likely to suffer from an ischemic stroke in their lifetime than those who didn't. And for ways to spot a stroke, watch out for these 7 Warning Signs of a Stroke Hiding in Plain Sight.
Drinking too much alcohol
Drinking alcohol can lower your risk of having a stroke—but only to a point. A 2019 study published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, found that men who reported having fewer than two drinks a day had a lower risk of stroke than non-drinkers (and, more specifically, ex-drinkers).
But after that, stroke risk increased with alcohol intake. In fact, a 2015 study published in the journal Stroke found that people who have more than two drinks a day have a 34 percent higher risk of stroke compared to those whose daily average amounted to less than half a drink.
Not getting enough vitamin C
One study presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in 2014 found that 59 percent of those who had experienced a hemorrhagic stroke (the type that occurs when a blood vessel ruptures inside of the brain) were deficient in vitamin C. That was compared to a control group of people who had not experienced a stroke, who typically had normal levels of vitamin C.
However, it's unclear why this link exists. Study author Stéphane Vannier, MD, from the Pontchaillou University Hospital in Rennes, France, said that the vitamin may help to regulate blood pressure, although more research is needed to confirm that theory. In any case, it's probably not a bad idea to add more vitamin C-rich foods, such as oranges, papaya, peppers, broccoli, and strawberries, to your diet.
Or enough vitamin D
If you tend to stay inside during the daylight hours, you could be deficient in vitamin D. And as it turns out, that could increase your risk of stroke. A 2012 meta-analysis published in Stroke found that people who had lower levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D—the prehormone produced in the liver by hydroxylation of vitamin D—had an increased risk of stroke in comparison to those with higher levels. Along with soaking up the sun (when it's safe to do so of course), you can also get your vitamin D fix by eating foods like tuna, salmon, beef liver, and egg yolks.
Regularly drinking diet soda
You already know that soda—diet or not—isn't good for your health. But one long-term study published in Stroke in 2017 found that the latter could increase your risk of stroke specifically. The research showed that those who consumed even one artificially sweetened beverage a day were about twice as likely to suffer from a stroke in the following decade than those who drank less than that.
However, experts at Harvard Medical School who reviewed the study said that the correlation could exist because some people who are already at risk for stroke (those who are overweight or who have diabetes) are more likely to choose diet sodas over regular ones in an effort to manage their health conditions. Regardless, it's probably best for your overall health to opt for another beverage instead.
Not drinking enough water
Dehydration can cause numerous health problems—including an increased risk of stroke. A 2019 study published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology evaluated 203 patients who had suffered from either an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke. The research found that dehydration was detected in nine percent of patients either at the time they were admitted to the hospital or three days after they had the stroke.
Patients who were dehydrated at either time had slower, less successful recoveries, especially women and older patients. In short: Stay hydrated to decrease your risk of stroke and increase your odds of a speedy recovery if you do wind up having one.
Putting off using the restroom
After examining 727 cases of ischemic stroke, a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that 30 percent of patients had an infection in the 90 days preceding the stroke. One of the most common being a urinary tract infection, or UTI.
And because UTIs can be the result of holding urine and not drinking enough water, according to the Mayo Clinic, you'll want to avoid those habits in order to decrease your risk of stroke.
Not having enough sex
Studies have found that having sex on a regular basis can help lower blood pressure, which, in turn, can decrease your risk of stroke. According to one 2010 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, men who had sex at least twice a week were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease compared with men who had sex once a month.
Being intimate has benefits for women, too. "Orgasm in women stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, which has a direct effect on lowering blood pressure," E. Dean Nukta, MD, medical director of interventional cardiology at Fairview Hospital, a Cleveland Clinic Hospital, told Everyday Health.
Failing to maintain close relationships
If you have a habit of pushing people away as opposed to inviting new folks into your life, you might be putting yourself at increased risk of stroke. A 2016 review of 23 research papers published in the journal Heart by the British Cardiovascular Society found that loneliness, and social isolation led to a 32 percent increase in the risk of stroke. Researchers noted that lonely and isolated people are more likely to smoke and be physically inactive, which both can heighten your risk of stroke. And for more on the damaging effects of being isolated, check out 20 Subtle Signs Your Loneliness Is Hurting Your Health.
More so than ever, researchers are learning that an inability to manage stress can lead to a plethora of health problems, including stroke. A 2001 study by the University of Michigan found that men who were more physiologically reactive to stress were 72 percent more likely to suffer from a stroke in their lifetime. So, in order to avoid putting yourself at risk, it might pay off to finally try that meditation class or find other outlets to create a sense of calm in your life.
Not managing your current health conditions
According to the Mayo Clinic, those suffering from common conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, and cardiovascular disease, should work to manage their afflictions, or they may be setting themselves up for a stroke, too.
Relying heavily on NSAIDS for pain relief
Using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, every once in a while is fine. But if you rely heavily on them to treat pain, it could be a problem. According to 2016 data from the Coxib and Traditional NSAID Trialists' Collaboration, ibuprofen increased the risk of non-fatal heart attack, stroke, and vascular death by 44 percent. And, in 2015, the Federal Drug Administration even strengthened an existing warning about the risks of taking NSAIDs.
Sitting for too long
You could be putting your overall health at risk by sitting for hours at a time, according to 2014 research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. In this 12-year study of postmenopausal women, researchers found that women who sat for 10 or more hours a day were 18 percent more likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke than those who only sat for five hours or less.
Eating too much red meat
According to a 2012 study published in Stroke, men who eat more than two servings of red meat a day have a 28 percent higher risk of stroke versus those who only eat a third of that amount per day. Fortunately, the researchers also found that by simply substituting one serving of red meat a day with chicken, turkey, and other alternatives, participants in the study were able to decrease their risk of stroke.
Consuming too little dairy
If you truly want to decrease your risk of stroke, you might want to break out the cheese platter. According to a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine, participants who had previously had a stroke consumed fewer dairy products, including various types of cheese, yogurt, milk, and chocolate milk, than those who hadn't. As a result, the researchers concluded that higher dairy consumption is associated with lower stroke risk.
Excluding probiotics from your diet
To keep your overall health on track—and decrease your chances of having a stroke—Lisa Richards, a certified nutritionist and creator of the Candida Diet, suggests maintaining optimal gut health.
"A simple habit to reduce your risk of severe strokes is to add some probiotic foods to your diet," Richards says. "Good examples are kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. They are easy to digest, nutritious, and contain probiotic bacteria that can help to rebalance your gut flora."