Malcolm: “I’ve made a change to eat healthily and lose weight.”
“I’ve always struggled with my weight and over the years it just crept up. Following brain surgery due to an abscess, I decided that I needed to make a change. As my parents both suffered strokes (my father actually passed away following a stroke), I knew the impact and felt I had to reduce my risks. For me, this meant doing something about my weight (which at the time was 32 stone).
I began by making a small change by eating more fruit and vegetables and eating fewer takeaways. Then, to help with my weight loss, my partner and I joined a weight-loss club, and this really helped to motivate and inspire me. Doing it with someone else helped keep me going and together. I was 21st 10lbs when I started and at my last weigh-in, I was 18st 5.5lb. We now lead a far better lifestyle. I’m more active now and do a lot of walking out in the fresh air, I even hiked up a mountain recently! I feel better for the changes I’ve made.”
Margaret: “I’ve made a change to be more active.”
“I had a brain haemorrhage a few years ago, so I know how life can change in an instant. No one knows what caused it, so I want to minimise my risk of having a second stroke. To do this, I've made one small change to increase the amount of exercise and activity I do.
During the first lockdown, I did the Joe Wicks lockdown PE classes almost every day, discovered online Yoga classes and took up Qigong and Tai Chi again. I also love getting out in the fresh air with my dog. I find all of this helps both my physical health and mental wellbeing. Since my stroke, fatigue has been a daily challenge. When I eat well, exercise and look after my wellbeing, I know that I'm doing my best.”
Gerry: "I’ve made a change to walk more”
“In 2004 and 2010 I had two separate suspected Transient Ischemic Attacks which landed me in hospital. Although nobody knows what may have caused them, I had a number of underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and borderline diabetes.
Following my retirement and house move, I decided to make one small change to my lifestyle to be more active and less sedentary. I now go for fast walks of about 10k every day. For three of those, I run for half of it. I am still taking medication for my blood pressure but importantly, my weight is now much lower than it was and I feel more able to do physical activities. I have also managed not to become diabetic, despite being told I was borderline. I have put this down to my lifestyle changes.”
Davinia: “I want to make a change to eat less salt.”
“Last year, for health reasons, I decided to move to a plant-based diet. Although I found it quite easy to cut out meat, as I didn’t eat that much before, it was quite hard to cut out eggs and dairy as they were in a lot of my ‘go-to’ foods. I found myself eating a lot of convenience foods made for the plant-based market and when cooking using more salt and seasonings that contained salt than I had before.
High blood pressure is a condition that many people in my family have for a number of reasons, and because I know that lots of salt can increase your blood pressure, I want to do as much as I can to cut down on the amount of salt I've been consuming. My one small change will be to take more time to cook from fresh, as some of the convenience foods I’ve been eating have a high salt content. I'll stop adding salt and seasoning with salt in it and use natural herbs, spices and flavours that I love and enjoy cooking with.”
Claire: “I made a change to be more active during my working day.”
“My job is mainly desk-based and since I’ve been working from home, I’ve found myself sitting for hours on end without getting up. I know that this sedentary behaviour and inactivity can increase my risk of conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which in turn can increase my risk of stroke. So my one small change will be to move around more during my working day.
Being active can be challenging for me as I have a physical disability that affects my mobility. This means it won’t always be simple and I’ll have to be creative. I think a range of activity will work best, depending on what I can manage that day, from walking when I can to doing some physiotherapy, as well as chair-based exercises.
I aim to set an hourly alarm and try and schedule my meetings with short breaks in between to give me time for this. I also want to encourage my colleagues to do the same (and maybe make their own pledge!). Fitting these exercises into my day should help increase my heartrate, boost my circulation and help me reduce my risk of stroke.
Liz: “I made a change to go for a short walk most days.”
“As I approached my 60s, I was aware of being increasingly sedentary and my weight was also slowly creeping up. This, coupled with a family history of heart attacks and stroke, made me evaluate my lifestyle. I decided that now was the time to make one small change for the better. I have always been reasonably active, like getting out and about with my dog. But I feel our walks are too slow to have much of an impact on my physical health.
I’ve decided that, in addition, I would use the time that I used to spend commuting, to go for a short, brisk walk. I now look forward to my morning walk and I get to enjoy the beautiful promenade I'm lucky enough to live near. As well as this, I've also decided to not have any snacks between meals and only having a small sweet treat (like a cake, biscuit or dessert) at weekends. Not being in the office has helped with this! I'm slowly starting to lose some weight and I'm feeling refreshed and energised by my changes.”
Troy: “I’ve made a change to control my stroke risk factors.”
“I was given medication by my GP to control my high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. I felt well and to be honest, I forgot to take them. Then I had a stroke. Since then, I decided to make one small change to reduce my risk of having another stroke and now take my medication religiously. I take statins and blood pressure tablets, along with a blood thinner, that my GP prescribed.
As well as remembering to take my medication, I now try to smoke and drink less and I'm returning to some light exercise to keep active. I've also adjusted my diet by reducing my portion sizes. The stroke has reduced my ability to swallow and my communication has been affected. I also suffer with fatigue. However, I've managed to reduce my blood pressure with the changes I've made. I have also been able to manage my diabetes better since the stroke because of more being aware of my personal risk factors.”
Paul: “I’ve made a change to quit smoking”
“Without really knowing it, I think turning 40 had a big impact on me. It was coming up to New Year and I thought if I don’t make changes to my lifestyle now, when will I? I decided to make one small change and stop smoking. For me, this also meant taking up running again as I needed some form of stress relief, and it also helped with my weight.
The first month of giving up smoking was a bit challenging, but it was easier than when I've tried in the past, possibly because I was really committed this time. The exercising has really helped; I have entered a number of virtual races, which help provide me with a focus and a sense of achievement on completion. My new smartwatch also allows me to track my progress and see improvements. Although I’m still on medication for my high blood pressure, I have lost weight, I'm fitter and healthier. I also hope I have reduced my stroke risks.”
Peter: “I made a change to manage my diabetes better”
“I had a stroke aged 36 and it took me completely by surprise. I had no idea that my diabetes could contribute to having one. I used to be much more casual about my diabetes but following my stroke, I decided I needed to make a change. My one small change is managing my health condition better. I now make sure I have regular check-ups with my GP and Diabetes Nurse. They help me manage my diabetes by keeping an eye on my blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
This helps me stay well, make changes where needed and reduce my risk of further complications. With the medication and devices now out there, it's not as hard to self-manage as it was. I don’t need to live like a saint but I also know I shouldn’t throw caution to the wind. It’s good that me and my family are now aware of the symptoms and potential problems and know how to lower our stroke risk.”
Dave: “I made a change to eat better and lose weight.”
“I used to work as a project manager for BT but a few years ago I had a stroke aged 52. It was a real shock, but it made me want to do what I can to avoid having a second stroke. So along with my wife, I made one small change. For me, it was mainly about my diet, at least to begin with. I cut out chocolates, sweets, alcohol or anything fattening and ended up losing four and a half stone as a result. I’m now able to do more exercise, and I got myself a dog and have become much more active. It hasn’t always been easy though.
Only having soft drinks at the pub and no crisps or nuts raised a few eyebrows amongst my friends, but explaining what I was doing and why made it easier. I felt that the physical aspects, including what I ate, are all things I had an influence over. I could change those behaviours and I could do something about my risk. Everyone is different and has his or her own challenges, but there’s only one person who is going to make a difference and that’s yourself. Three years on, I still follow these principles.”
Alun: “I made a change to get fit and healthy.”
“When I was 24, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, which I have to manage on a daily basis. In 2008, my wife Margo had a stroke, she was only 38. That was a wake-up call. I know that I’m at increased risk of having a stroke myself, so I made one small change to keep myself as fit and healthy as possible to lower my risk. I started running because I wanted to do something new. I travel a lot on business and running is something I can do anywhere; I just need my running shoes and away I go.
It can be difficult to manage my diabetes, especially when I’m doing a longer run. If my blood sugar drops, I have to take a glucose gel but that can also cause my blood sugar to spike, so I then have to take a shot of insulin to bring it down. It can be a very fine balancing act. I’ve also struggled with my mental health recently because of my wife’s stroke and being furloughed from a very fast-paced job and the running has really helped with this. It’s great to be able to do something I love and that also lowers my stroke risk. I love running and I'm really feeling the health benefits.”
Subhas: “I made a change and started running.”
“I have a busy and demanding job as a Chartered Accountant, which often left me feeling sluggish, anxious and tired at the end of my working day. I decided that enough was enough and that I needed to start taking my health seriously. So my one small change was to start running. This not only helps with my physical health but also helps ease my anxiety.
I started slowly but I now run an average of 30km a week, leading me to lose 15kg in the last year and feeling much better for it. I’ve encouraged others to start running and even gathered 50 people from my community to do a 5k charity run. I now feel fresher, more productive at work and able to take on more challenges.