Your risk of stroke increases as you get older. The good news is that it's within your power to reduce your risk by eating healthier and exercising regularly.
Every year, almost 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke. That may sound like a lot, but there's good news hiding in the numbers. The National Stroke Association reports that up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable—the key is to know how to reduce your chance of stroke.
A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a clot or by plaque in the arteries and brain cells are deprived of the oxygen-rich blood that they need to survive. In some cases, a stroke may occur when a blood vessel in your brain bursts and the blood buildup damages your brain cells. Depending on severity, a stroke can be fatal or it may go almost entirely unnoticed.
The most important step you can take to protect yourself against stroke is to understand the risk factors.
Some risk factors can't be controlled. Chances of stroke increase with age—the likelihood of having a stroke nearly doubles every 10 years after age 55—and women have a higher risk than men. People of African, Hispanic, and Asian or Pacific Islander descent are at greater risk than Caucasians. You're also more likely to have a stroke if someone in your family has had one or if you've had one previously.
Fortunately, there are several lifestyle factors you can control, and just a few simple modifications can help reduce your risk and improve your overall health.
Many of the steps you can take to address one risk factor will also help to combat others. Medical risk factors include:
Lifestyle changes that allow you to manage these medical risk factors can not only reduce your chances of having a stroke but can also help prevent the development of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Smoking increases your chances of developing several risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. According to Harvard Heart Letter, nothing is more effective than quitting when it comes to stroke prevention. If you or someone you know is trying to quit, visit Rite Aid's Quit Smoking Solution Center for additional help and resources.
A diet that includes lean proteins, colorful fruit and vegetables, and whole grains is important to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, which in turn helps you manage diabetes and lower high blood pressure and cholesterol. A few simple changes to your diet can go a long way toward reducing risk factors for stroke.
Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, manage your diabetes, and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. It's also an important component of rehabilitation after a stroke. The Surgeon General recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity such as biking and brisk walking. Shoot for 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week.
Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, and calories from alcoholic beverages can contribute to weight gain. If you do drink, do so in moderation. For men, that means up to two drinks per day, and one drink per day for women.
Risk factors like high blood pressure often have no symptoms and can only be identified through regular blood pressure readings at your doctor's office. Additionally, if you've quit smoking and are following a healthy diet and exercise program and still have high cholesterol or other health issues, your doctor can prescribe medications that can help you better manage your health issues and reduce your risk for stroke.
By Joelle Klein
Harvard Health Publishing, How to lower your stroke risk
Harvard Health Publishing, 7 things you can do to prevent a stroke
American Heart Association, What You Can Do to Reduce Your Stroke Ri
American Stroke Association, Preventing a Stroke
American Stroke Association, Impact of Stroke (Stroke statistics)
National Institute of Health, Stroke
National Stroke Association, Stroke facts
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.