Age makes us more susceptible to having a stroke, as does having a mother, father, or other close relative who has had a stroke. You can’t reverse the years or change your family history, but there are many other stroke risk factors that you can control—provided that you’re aware of them. If you know that a particular risk factor is sabotaging your health and predisposing you to a higher risk of stroke, you can take steps to alleviate the effects of that risk.”

Here are 7 ways to start reining in your risks today to avoid stroke, before a stroke has the chance to strike.

1. Lower blood pressure
High blood pressure is a huge factor, doubling or even quadrupling your stroke risk if it is not controlled. It is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke in both men and women. Monitoring blood pressure and, if it is elevated, treating it, is probably the biggest difference people can make to their vascular health.

2. Lose weight
Obesity, as well as the complications linked to it (including high blood pressure and diabetes), raises your odds of having a stroke. If you’re overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can have a real impact on your stroke risk.

3. Exercise more
Exercise contributes to losing weight and lowering blood pressure, but it also stands on its own as an independent stroke reducer.

4. Drink in moderation
Drinking a little alcohol may decrease your risk of stroke. Studies show that if you have about one drink per day, your risk may be lower. Once you start drinking more than two drinks per day, your risk goes up very sharply.

5. Treat atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat that causes clots to form in the heart. Those clots can then travel to the brain, producing a stroke. Atrial fibrillation carries almost a fivefold risk of stroke, and should be taken seriously.

6. Treat diabetes
Having high blood sugar damages blood vessels over time, making clots more likely to form inside them.,Keep your blood sugar under control.

7. Quit smoking
Smoking accelerates clot formation in a couple of different ways. It thickens your blood, and it increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries.

Identify a stroke F-A-S-T

Too many people ignore the signs of stroke because they question whether their symptoms are real. Don’t wait if you have any unusual symptoms. Listen to your body and trust your instincts. If something is off, get professional help right away.”

The National Stroke Association has created F.A.S.T., an easy acronym to help you remember, and act on, the signs of a stroke.

  • Face drooping. One side of the face droops or is numb. When asked to smile, the person’s smile looks uneven.
  • Arm weakness. One arm will feel weak or numb. When asked to raise both arms, one of the person’s arms will drift downward.
  • Speech difficulty. The person will have trouble speaking. Speech will sound slurred, or the words will be hard to understand. When asked to repeat a simple sentence like “The sky is blue,” the person will have trouble repeating it correctly.
  • Time to call 911. If the person shows any of the above symptoms, call 911. Even if the symptoms go away, get an ambulance and get the person to a hospital. Take note of the time when the symptoms first appeared.