By Ginny Graves
Updated March 02, 2021

People with healthy blood pressure—less than 120/80—have about half the lifetime risk of stroke as those with high blood pressure, or hypertension. “High blood pressure damages blood vessels throughout the body, making them more susceptible to developing clots,” says Lewis Morgenstern, MD, director of the University of Michigan Stroke Program.

Women over 55 are significantly more likely than men to develop hypertension, perhaps because theyve lost whatever protective effects estrogen might have provided. Heres how to keep your blood pressure in the safe zone.

Exercise regularly
In a study of more than 47,000 men and women in Finland, moderate and high levels of physical activity were associated with lower stroke risk. Exercise helps reduce blood pressure by making the heart stronger. And the stronger the heart, the less effort it takes to pump blood around the body—so the lower the blood pressure. Physical activity also can help decrease the risk of developing diabetes and control cholesterol levels, both of which up your chances of a stroke.

Likewise, Tulane University researchers reported several months ago that the risk of ischemic stroke rises with greater alcohol intake.

“Cholesterol tends to adhere to the arteries, and blood tends to stick to those spots, increasing the risk of clotting,” Morgenstern says. Excess sodium intake can contribute to high blood pressure, too. Eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day may reduce stroke risk.