7 Things You Can Do to Rein In Your Stroke Risks

 Rein in stroke risks

Don’t Be a Statistic

You likely know someone who has suffered from a stroke and its disabling effects or you may have suffered one yourself. A stroke will come on with little to no warning and drastically change your life; that is, if you are lucky enough to survive the event.

Someone in the U.S. dies from a stroke every four minutes and it is the number one cause of morbidity – adult disability. Daunting statistics to be sure, however, the good news is you can avoid being a statistic.

Through a few moderate lifestyle changes and effectively treating existing conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, you can significantly reduce your stroke risks and avoid a catastrophic event.

A Stroke Isn’t Inevitable

Uncontrollable risk factors such as age, gender, and family history can increase your stroke risks. Being over 50-years-old makes you more susceptible to having a stroke, as does having a mother, father, or other close relative who has had one. Males also tend to suffer more strokes than do females. Regardless of these factors, a stroke doesn't have to be inevitable.

Moderate lifestyle changes focused on maintaining a balanced diet, regularly exercising, and quitting smoking go a long way toward significantly reducing your stroke risks.

Following are seven ways to start reining in your risks today, before a stroke has the chance to strike.

A 7-Step Program

Quit smoking

Smoking cessation is possibly the best thing you can do to improve your health. When you quit smoking, your body feels the health benefits within just a few hours and continues to reap the benefits every minute/hour/day/month/year that you avoid smoking another cigarette.

Smoking accelerates clot formation that can lead to a stroke in a few ways. It thickens your blood, and it increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries. When a clot breaks away, it can travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

How to achieve it:

       Partner with your doctor for the most appropriate way for you to quit.

       Set a date to begin quitting and stick to it.

       Remove all reminders of your habit from your home, vehicle, and workplace.

       Use a combination of quit-smoking aids: nicotine pills or patches, counseling, or medicine.

       Don't give up! Most smokers try quitting several times before finding success.  

Drink in moderation

Believe it or not, moderate alcohol consumption can make you less likely to have a stroke — up to a point. Research shows that about one drink per day can reduce your risks. However, once you start drinking more than two drinks per day, your risks rise sharply.

How to achieve it:

       Enjoy one glass of alcohol a day.

       Red wine is recommended, as it contains resveratrol, which is thought to protect the heart and brain.

       Portion size matters. The standard should be: 5-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce beer, or 1.5-ounce glass of hard liquor.

Lose weight

Complications linked to obesity significantly raise your odds of having a stroke. These complications can include diabetes and hypertension. Losing as little as 10 pounds if you are overweight can have a real impact on your stroke risk. The goal is to keep your body mass index (BMI) at 25 or less.

How to achieve it:

       Partner with your doctor or dietician to develop a diet that works for you.

       Remove snack and impulse foods from your home and workplace.

       Join a support group.

       Limit calorie intake to 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day (depending on your activity level and your current BMI).

       Increase your daily activity: briskly walking just 30 minutes each day is a great start and the minimum you should do. Start there and work on doing more as time goes on. 

Exercise more

Beyond helping you lose weight, exercise contributes to lowering blood pressure. Regular exercise can have lasting positive effects on your vascular system and significantly reduce your stroke risks.

How to achieve it:

       Partner with your doctor to determine the level of exercise that is right for you.

       Take a walk around your neighborhood each day (perhaps your dog would like to accompany you): a brisk 30-minute walk each day is the minimum you should do.

       Find a partner to exercise with (outside motivation will help you sustain your exercise regimen).

       When you exercise, reach the level at which you're breathing hard, but you can still talk.

       Take the stairs instead of an elevator when possible.

       Park at the back of the parking lot at work or at shopping centers and walk those extra several hundred feet each time.

       Don't have 30 consecutive minutes to exercise daily? Break it up into 10- to 15-minute sessions a few times each day.

You’ve got this!

Lower blood pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major stroke risk. In fact, it can double or even quadruple your stroke risk if it is not controlled, and is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke in both men and women.

Monitoring and treating hypertension is probably the biggest difference you can make to your vascular health. The goal is to maintain a blood pressure of less than 120/80. However, for some, a less aggressive goal (say around 140/90) may be more appropriate.  

How to achieve it:

       Talk to your doctor about what your healthy blood pressure is and what you can do to maintain it.

       Reduce the salt in your diet to about half a teaspoon.

       Avoid high-cholesterol foods: burgers (red meat), cheese, and ice cream.

       Incorporate 4 to 5 cups of fruits and vegetables into your daily diet. Fish, whole grains, and low-fat dairy should also be staples in your regular diet.

       Regularly exercise — at least 30 minutes of activity a day, minimum. More, if possible.

       Quit smoking!

       Take prescribed blood pressure medicines as directed. 

Treat diabetes

High blood sugar can damage blood vessels over time, making clots more likely to form inside them. When a clot breaks free it can travel to the brain and cause a damaging stroke. If you have diabetes, keeping your blood sugar under control is vital to effectively managing the disease.

How to achieve it:

       Monitor your blood sugar as directed by your doctor.

       Follow a strict diabetes-friendly diet.

       Exercise regularly — at least 30 minutes of activity a day, minimum. More, if possible.

       Take prescribed medicines to keep your blood sugar within the recommended range as directed.

Treat atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat that causes clots to form in the heart. When a clot breaks free it can travel to the brain and cause a damaging stroke. Atrial fibrillation should be taken very seriously, as it carries nearly a fivefold risk of stroke. 

How to achieve it:

       See your doctor for an exam if you experience symptoms such as heart palpitations or shortness of breath.

       Take prescribed blood thinners such as high-dose aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin) to reduce your stroke risk from atrial fibrillation.

By adhering to this 7-step guide, your stroke risks will decline significantly. You will also feel healthier (because you will be healthier) and you will have more energy to enjoy your hobbies well into your golden years.