Harvard Medical School Controlling your weight is key to lowering stroke risk There is a lot you can do to lower your chances of having a stroke. Even if you've already had a stroke or TIA ("mini-stroke"), you can take steps to prevent another. Controlling your weight is an important way to lower stroke risk. Excess pounds strain the entire circulatory system and can lead to other health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obstructive sleep apnea. But losing as little as 5% to 10% of your starting weight can lower your blood pressure and other stroke risk factors. Protect your brain: That’s the strategy that Harvard doctors recommend in this report on preventing and treating stroke. Whether you’ve already had a mini-stroke or a major stroke, or have been warned that your high blood pressure might cause a future stroke, Stroke: Diagnosing, treating, and recovering from a "brain attack" provides help and advice. Of course, you'll need to keep the weight off for good, not just while you're on a diet. The tips below can help you shed pounds and keep them off: Move more. Exercise is one obvious way to burn off calories. But another approach is to increase your everyday activity wherever you can — walking, fidgeting, pacing while on the phone, taking stairs instead of the elevator. Skip the sipped calories. Sodas, lattes, sports drinks, energy drinks, and even fruit juices are packed with unnecessary calories. Worse, your body doesn't account for them the way it registers solid calories, so you can keep chugging them before your internal "fullness" mechanism tells you to stop. Instead, try unsweetened coffee or tea, or flavor your own sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime, a sprig of fresh mint, or a few raspberries. Eat more whole foods. If you eat more unprocessed foods — such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — you'll fill yourself up on meals that take a long time to digest. Plus, whole foods are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and tend to be lower in salt — which is better for your blood pressure, too. Find healthier snacks. Snack time is many people's downfall — but you don't have to skip it as long as you snack wisely. Try carrot sticks as a sweet, crunchy alternative to crackers or potato chips, or air-popped popcorn (provided you skip the butter and salt and season it with your favorite spices instead). For a satisfying blend of carbs and protein, try a dollop of sunflower seed butter on apple slices. For more information on lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent a stroke, buy Stroke: Diagnosing, treating, and recovering from a "brain attack, " a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. Stroke: Know when to act, and act quickly Identifying and treating a stroke as quickly as possible can save brain cells, function, and lives. Everyone should know the warning signs of a stroke and when to get help fast. The warning signs of a stroke can begin anywhere from a few minutes to days before a stroke actually occurs. The National Stroke Association has devised the FAST checklist to help determine whether a person is having a stroke. Act FAST If the answer to any of the questions below is yes, there's a high probability that the person is having a stroke. Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop? Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Does he or she fail to repeat the sentence correctly? Time: If the answer to any of these questions is yes, time is important! Call the doctor or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying. When stroke symptoms occur, quick action is vital. If you think you or someone with you is having a stroke, call the doctor. Ideally, the person affected should be taken to a hospital emergency room that has expertise and experience in treating stroke as it occurs (called acute stroke). If you or someone you love is at high risk for having a stroke, you should know the name and location of the nearest hospital that specializes in treating acute stroke. The goal of stroke treatment is to restore blood circulation before brain tissue dies. To prevent brain cell death that is significant enough to cause disability, treatment is most effective if it starts within 60 minutes of the onset of symptoms. But it can still be very effective if given within 3 hours of symptom onset. An important goal of ongoing stroke research is to find treatments that can buy time by protecting the person's brain until blood circulation is restored, which can increase the chances of survival and decrease the chances of disability.