Stroke is one of the biggest health problems in the U.S. — it’s the fifth leading cause of death in the nation and costs the American health care system some $34 billion every year.

Each year, over 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke; up to 80 percent of them are ischemic strokes, in which blood flow to the brain is blocked. If they survive, many stroke patients live with disabilities afterward, from language and speech problems to paralysis.

With such serious issues leading from stroke, we wonder whether it’s preventable. The short answer is yes — to an extent. While the biggest risk factors for stroke are age, gender (men are more likely to have a stroke than women), race, and genetics/family history, there are plenty of preventable risk factors for stroke as well. A new study out of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) examines how half of strokes could be prevented by altering your lifestyle and following the six steps below.

“Stroke is a devastating disease but we know that around 50 percent of strokes could be prevented,” John Camm, a professor of clinical cardiology at St. George’s University in London and an author of the study, said in the press release.

If you want to lower your risk of stroke, the researchers advise to follow the following six steps. They’re all part of a common sense healthy lifestyle, but the sooner you begin living them, the more protected you’ll be — not only from stroke, but an array of other chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression.

1. Stop Smoking

It goes without saying that if you’re going to adapt a healthy lifestyle, nixing the cigarettes may be the first step. Tobacco has been linked to various forms of cancer, heart disease, and a variety of other health problems. Smoking can raise triglycerides in your blood, lower your “good” HDL cholesterol, damage blood vessel lining, and narrow your blood vessels to prevent blood from getting through. Smoking can also cause blood clots, which would block blood from reaching the heart.

2. Exercise

A recent study found that working out for two hours every week reduced a woman’s risk of stroke by 50 percent. The evidence says it all: Staying physically active will improve cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure — both of which are greatly related to stroke risk.

3. Maintain A Healthy Weight

Preventing obesity and working out go hand in hand. Being overweight or obese has been linked to a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke — due to the various ways the condition wreaks havoc on nearly every part of your body. Calculate your healthy weight based on your height, or talk to your doctor about a healthy weight range for your body.

4. Eat Well

Research has shown that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and fish, can reduce the risk of stroke significantly. The Mediterranean diet in particular — olive oil, salmon, cruciferous vegetables, whole wheats and grains, and legumes — can not only lower your risk of stroke, but improve many other aspects of your health as well, from cognitive function to mental health. Foods high in fat, sugar, and sodium, on the other hand, can take their toll on your blood vessels and heart.

5. Drink Alcohol In Moderation

According to the Stroke Association, “regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol greatly increases your risk of stroke.” Drinking a lot of booze leads to high blood pressure, weight gain, and can damage your liver. It can also contribute to atrial fibrillation. Drinking a glass of wine or beer per day is a sign of healthy moderation — but anything more than that can trigger some long-term, chronic problems to develop.

6. Relax

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the lifestyle changes you need to implement, perhaps you should do this one first: Simply relax and reduce your stress. Research has linked high levels of stress to higher blood pressure and a greater risk of stroke, especially for women. Pinpoint a few tried-and-true ways to relax when you find your stress and anxiety levels are getting out of hand — whether that’s taking a nice long shower, taking a walk, going to the gym, or reading a good book with a glass of wine.

“I strongly advise adopting a healthier lifestyle and visiting your doctor to find out which risk factors you have that need attention,” Camm said in the press release. For example, women with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat, are more prone to stroke due to high blood pressure and a greater risk of diabetes, depression, and obesity. Getting cardiovascular health checked out could help women lower their stroke risk better.

Other risk factors that go into stroke include birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, hormone changes during menopause, and pregnancy-associated diabetes, and preeclampsia, Camm notes. Other studies have found that air pollution is linked to a greater risk of stroke as well.

But if you’re trying to make a difference today, start with the six steps that are in your control. Your body will thank you for it later.

Source: Camm J, et al. The European Society of Cardiology. 2015.