Starting today, you can take steps to protect and prevent yourself from a stroke, regardless of your age or family history. Truth be told, the vast majority of strokes do not need to happen.
No matter what your age or family history, stroke prevention is a must for every one of us. Even though age and having a close relative who’s had a stroke increases your risk, it doesn’t make it inevitable. The number of years we’ve lived or your family health history cannot be changed, but other factors within your control can reduce your risk.
Here are critical tools you can start using today to protect yourself from having a stroke:
Reduce blood pressure
Hypertension is the greatest contributor to raising stroke risk quadrupling both a man’s and woman’s risk if it is not well-controlled. Everyone should have regular monitoring of their blood pressure. If elevated, treatment makes a huge difference in keeping blood vessels healthy. The new recommendation for blood pressure is 130/80.
Tools for reducing blood pressure:
- Limit sodium intake between 1500-2300 mg/day
- Avoid high sodium foods such as soups, fast food, cheese, and processed foods
- Eat 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day
- Don’t smoke and quit if you do
Sip less on soda
A prospective cohort study found that individuals who consumed a higher amount and cumulative intake of both artificially sweetened and sweetened soft drinks had an increased risk of ischemic stroke.
Tools for drinking less soda:
- Choose water instead
- Infuse water with natural flavors from lemons, limes, oranges, or cucumbers
If anxiety is always getting the best of you, take note. A study published in the journal Stroke, found that of 2,100 men, those most anxious were three times more likely to have a fatal ischemic stroke than men who were more serene. Anxiety causes chronic overproduction of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates the brain’s control of circulation.
Tools to reduce anxiety:
- When feeling anxious, breathe deeply while counting to three
- Take five minutes to close your eyes to meditate
- Take frequent breaks to stretch or to sneak in exercise
Reach a healthy body weight
Carrying excess pounds raises your odds of high blood pressure and diabetes and of having a stroke. Even as little as 10 pounds of being overweight can have an impact on your stroke risk.
Tools to reach a healthy weight:
- Follow the myplate method of eating well-balanced meals
- Reduce intake of highly processed foods
- Increase exercise with activities such as brisk walking, swimming, bicycling, or playing tennis
Treat atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat that can cause a clot to form in the heart which can travel to the brain resulting in a stroke. Anyone with atrial fibrillation has a fivefold risk of stroke and should be taken seriously by having it treated.
Tools to reduce atrial fibrillation:
- Anyone experiencing heart palpitations or shortness of breath should see their doctor right away
- This condition is usually treated by taking an anticoagulant medication or blood thinner such as warfarin. Your doctor can guide you as to the best treatment method for you.
One of the best ways to lower risk of stroke is to quit smoking. Smoking speeds up clot formation by thickening blood and increasing the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries. Making the decision to either never smoke or to stop smoking, is one of the most powerful lifestyle changes reducing the risk of stroke.
Tools to quit smoking:
- Ask advice from your doctor on how to quit
- Use aids such as nicotine pills or patches, counseling, or medication
- It may take several attempts to quit but don’t give up.
Drink in moderation if at all
Choosing to consume alcohol is a personal decision. A little alcohol may actually lower risk of stroke but drinking more than two drinks per day can increase stroke risk sharply. Drinking too much alcohol can raise other risk factors for stroke such as increasing blood pressure, diabetes contributes to weight gain, can trigger atrial fibrillation, and can stop the liver from making substances that help blood to clot increasing the risk of stroke caused by bleeding in the brain.
Tools to drink in moderation:
- Have no more than one drink of alcohol per day
- If you do drink, choose red wine. It contains resveratrol, thought to protect the heart and brain
- Know the proper portion size of an alcoholic beverage.
Keep diabetes in control
Uncontrolled blood sugar does serious damage to blood vessels over time making blood clots more likely to form inside them.
Tools to control diabetes:
- Regularly monitor blood sugar as directed by your doctor
- Make healthy food choices, exercise regularly, and take any diabetes medications to keep your blood sugar within the recommended range.
Become more physically active
Embracing regular, consistent exercise is one of the best tools you can use for preventing a stroke. Men and women who are physically active have a 25% to 30% lower risk of stroke than individuals who are least active. Research has shown for years that physical activity is known to lower cholesterol, help maintain healthy body weight, and lower blood pressure – all factors that can reduce stroke risk. Even is a person can get up and move for 10 minutes each hour is better than sitting for extended periods of time.
Tools for incorporating more movement into your day:
- When using your cell phone, walk around instead of sitting
- Take the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator
- Take stretch breaks every 30 minutes
- Dance to your favorite music
- Do 20 jumping jacks or jump rope for 1 minute or longer