Nine golden rules to reduce your risk of stroke

Stroke is the leading cause of disability worldwide with almost two thirds of stroke survivors leaving hospital with a disability. A stroke can happen to anyone, at anytime, anywhere. It’s the fourth single-largest cause of death in the UK and one in four adults will have a stroke in their lifetime. However, almost all strokes could be prevented by addressing a small number of key risk factors.

To mark World Stroke Day (October 29th) raising awareness of the risks of stroke, Slimming World’s Nutrition and Health Policy Manager, Carolyn Pallister shares nine golden rules to help reduce your risk.

“Every five minutes stroke destroys lives. In the UK, there are more than 100,000 incidents of stroke each year – that is around one stroke every five minutes. Many stroke survivors, of which there are 1.2 million in the UK, face significant challenges that include physical disability, communication difficulties, changes in how they think and feel, loss of work, income and social networks. Being overweight is one of the top ten risk factors for stroke and is associated with almost 1 in 5 strokes. This is because carrying excess weight increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes which all contribute to higher stroke risk.

“Maintaining a healthy weight and managing things like diet and smoking can help with other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and in turn reduce stroke risk.”

  • Aim for a varied, balanced diet. This means limiting fat (especially saturated fat which is found in butter, cakes, pastry, fatty strips of meat) and added sugar intake; enjoying a variety of fruits and vegetables (at least 5-a-day); and including some wholegrains (such as brown rice and wholewheat pasta).
  • Be mindful of your salt intake. Too much can raise your blood pressure which is a risk factor for stroke. Making homemade sauces and meals can help cut your salt intake as there’s often a lot of hidden salt in ready-made sauces and ready meals. Try to limit having too much bread, cheese, smoked fish and meat, pickles and condiments and enjoy them in moderation.
  • Be active where you can. Make the most of the great outdoors, your local parks, fields, leisure facilities, and at home exercises (housework counts!). Physical activity helps keep the heart healthy, which in turn can help protect against a stroke.
  • Think about what you drink. It’s better for our health to enjoy alcohol in moderation. To help keep stroke risk down aim to drink no more than six pints of beer/cider each week, or six 175ml glasses of wine. This is equivalent to 14 units which is the maximum recommended weekly intake for UK adults.
  • Stop smoking. Cutting down, quitting or not being a smoker at all can help reduce stroke risk.
  • Aim for or maintain a healthy weight. This is one of the best things you can do to reduce the risk of having a stroke. Being of a healthy weight typically means your cardiovascular system (the heart and blood vessels) is healthier and is under less stress.
  • Opt for lean cuts of meat. When it comes to enjoying your meat and two veg, opting for lean cuts of meat, such as 5% fat mince, trimming the fat off bacon and other fatty cuts of meat, and taking off any skin on poultry. This all helps in reducing saturated fat intake, which is one step closer to a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Aim for two portions of fish each week. White fish such as hake, cod or haddock are a really lean source of protein while oily fish like sardines, mackerel and salmon not only provide protein but are amazing for omega-3 fatty acids which are said to help prevent the blood from clotting and protect our arteries. Aiming for two portions (one white, one oily) each week is one of many great ways to help towards having a healthy heart.
  • Enjoy fibre rich foods. This fabulous nutrient is found in all fruit, veg and starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, pasta and not only keeps things moving in our digestive system but some fibre-filled foods can help towards keeping our cholesterol levels nice and healthy, these include oats, beans, peas and lentils.
Carolyn Pallister, Nutrition and Health Policy Manager
Being overweight is one of the top ten risk factors for stroke and is associated with almost 1 in 5 strokes. This is because carrying excess weight increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes which all contribute to higher stroke risk.
Carolyn Pallister, Nutrition and Health Policy Manager

ICU healthcare assistant loses 14st after mini-stroke scare.  It was the wake-up call I needed           

John Schofield, 49

Weight loss: 14st

Eccles, Manchester 

“Exactly five years ago, in 2015 I was working at Wythenshawe Hospital in the cardiology ward when I suddenly felt unwell and colleagues noticed I was slurring my words. I remember feeling disorientated and not registering what was being said around me. As I was at the hospital already, a specialist nurse took my blood pressure and did a quick ECG. The results showed I had atrial fibrillation, something I hadn’t been familiar with before then which meant my heart was racing and beating faster than it should have done. I was referred to a cardiology team and for the next twelve months I got more and more out of breath doing the simplest tasks, my skin was clammy and I was still slurring my words.

Eventually, I had a pacemaker fitted to slow my heart rate down but this didn’t stop me having another incident at work when I felt disorientated, my blood pressure dropped and I was rushed to A&E. After conducting a CT scan of my head, the radiographer asked me when I’d had a stroke and I remember feeling so shocked as I wasn’t aware I’d even had one. I realise now the first time I felt unwell and started slurring my words, I experienced a mini stroke – something I thought then only happened to older people. It was the wake-up call I needed to make a change. I knew carrying excess weight was putting more strain on my heart and that the pacemaker I’d had fitted wasn’t cheap. I felt if someone had put that much time, effort and expense into making sure I lived, it was time I did my bit to help.

At this point I was taking ten tablets a day, four in the morning and six at night. I have always suffered from asthma and I couldn’t go anywhere without my inhaler. My chest always felt heavy and my legs and joints ached all the time. I wasn’t very active at all and even a short walk to the shop would take me forever and a day.

Around that time, I bumped into two school friends in the local supermarket who had both lost weight and looking so much healthier I had to ask how they’d done it. They said they’d been going to their local Slimming World group. I’d tried so many weight-loss plans and slimming groups but I hadn’t tried this one so I thought I’ll give it a go. I didn’t hold out much hope but weighing 26 stone I was at a loss to know what else I could do.

The results were amazing. Everyone in the group was so friendly and we had such a laugh, sharing tips and ideas and supporting each other. Within two weeks I’d lost 15lbs and not only that, I was starting to feel better too. I had more energy and was less breathless.By the end of last year, just two years after joining Slimming World, I’d completely turned my life around. I’d lost over half my body weight, 14 stone, gone from a 60-inch waist to a 32-inch waist and was feeling so much better. I don’t take any medication and I no longer need an inhaler. I don’t have any aches and pains in my legs, and I’ve got a brand-new wardrobe too after going from size 5XL to medium or small sizes. I can buy clothes so much more easily, not just from specialist shops or online.

 A typical week prior to joining Slimming World would see me satisfy my savoury tooth with pies, pasties, sausage rolls and burgers, skipping breakfast and eating pork pies or scones as snacks in between meals. Now I eat a lot of fruit and I make sure I eat three meals a day. I’ve given up beer which I used to drink every night and I always make sure I have eggs for breakfast as that keeps me going until lunchtime. I still enjoy savoury foods like burgers, but I make them myself with lean mince and I’ve found a new love for cooking. I prep my meals most mornings before work, dicing and cutting veg for that evening’s meal and I’m a big fan of the slow cooker. I’m really proud of my meatball chilli. I used to drive past joggers and say to my kids that will be me one day! Now I walk everywhere rather than get in the car and I regularly walk around 4.5 miles to my dad’s house which takes me just under an hour. I recently ran a 10K raising £700 for the Ticker Club, a local heart charity. The old me would never have believed I could have done that.  

Since February this year I’ve been working in the ICU department of the Salford Royal, on the critical care ward as a healthcare assistant. Most recently I’ve been working on the Covid infection control ward. Being on my feet for 13 hour shifts and wearing the PPE, which is like something out of Star Wars, has been a real challenge. During the height of lockdown, I struggled to stay on plan as the panic buying meant empty shelves and my usual ingredients were nowhere to be found. Sheer exhaustion saw me forego my good intentions and I soon put on weight again. My mood was low and working shifts I found it hard to join my group at one of the weekly virtual classes they set up. It was all too easy to think if I wasn’t going to get weighed, and without the support of my group, it didn’t matter if I slipped a little, but I soon realised it did! I lost my way during lockdown but now I can meet my group again in person they help me feel motivated if I have a bad week. I feel back in control and I’m determined to get back on track by Christmas. I’ve seen first-hand the impact of coronavirus and hearing about the increased risks of being overweight if you contract Covid has made me so relieved I was in good shape this year and also more determined to stay that way. I know what I need to do, and I don’t want to throw it all away.”

Notes to editors:

Slimming World was founded by Margaret Miles-Bramwell (OBE, FRSA) in 1969. Members join local weekly groups or an online programme. Groups are run by a network of community-based Slimming World Consultants across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Consultants are trained in the role of diet and physical activity in weight management, as well as recognised behaviour-change techniques. Slimming World’s healthy eating plan, Food Optimising, is based on the science of energy density and satiety. Our phased activity programme, Body Magic, eases members into activity until it becomes an intrinsic part of their daily routine. Slimming World’s programme integrates practical, up-to-date advice with a highly-developed support system based on care and compassion, and Consultant training focuses on facilitating, encouraging and empowering members to make changes in a supportive, warm and friendly group environment. Consultant training is delivered through the Slimming World Academy. Slimming World also invests in a comprehensive research programme to develop its support for long-term weight management. The group support provided by Slimming World is recognised as effective by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the NHS. Following the suspension of weekly groups as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Slimming World launched a temporary virtual service. Find out more about Slimming World’s step-by-step safe reopening, where guidance and venues allow, here.

For more information about Slimming World’s approach visit slimmingworld.co.uk. Follow Slimming World on Twitter at www.twitter.com/slimmingworld or become a Slimming World fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/slimmingworld

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