7 ways to protect yourself from a stroke
According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., killing about 140,000 Americans annually. And more alarming, it’s also the leading cause of serious, long-term disability, with approximately 795,000 Americans suffering some type of stroke each year.
Though nearly three-quarters of strokes occur in people over the age of 65, experts caution that stroke can occur at any age, man or women, no matter your ethnicity.
So, how do you minimize your risk of stroke?
According to Minna Masor, neurosciences clinical coordinator at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, there are seven actions you can take to help protect yourself against stroke:
- Know and control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and one of the most controllable risk factors. According to the American Stroke Association, more than three-quarters of strokes occurring for the first time happen in people with blood pressures of more than 140/90. Have your blood pressure checked regularly, and talk to your doctor to see how you can lower your numbers, whether naturally through diet and exercise or with use of medications.
- Know and control your blood sugar. Diabetes itself not only increases your risk of stroke, but it often comes with other significant risk factors, as well. In fact, the National Stroke Association estimates that diabetes increases your risk of stroke up to four times. If you are diabetic, knowing and controlling your blood sugar levels will decrease your risk.
- Know if you have an irregular heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat, can greatly increase your risk of stroke. If you have the condition, your heart muscle isn’t properly pumping your blood, which can lead to clotting that can cause stroke. Have your heart checked regularly, and talk to your doctor about options for correcting or minimizing your risk.
- Quit smoking. Smoking doubles your risk of stroke, making your heart work harder and increasing the likelihood of clots forming. It also increases build-up of plaque in your arteries, blocking the flow of blood to your brain. The single best thing you can do to decrease your overall risk of stroke is to stop smoking.
- Lose a few pounds. Extra body weight puts strain not only on your heart, but your entire circulatory system. Your heart needs to work harder to pump the blood through your entire system, and the extra pounds increase your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Make certain you maintain a healthy weight, particularly through exercise and good nutrition.
- Eat right. A recent study at Harvard University showed eating five daily servings of fruits and vegetables can lower your stroke risk by up to 30 percent. The researchers determined that citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons, and vegetables, particularly lettuce, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower, are particularly beneficial. According to the study, the high concentrations of folic acid, fiber and potassium in these natural foods may be a key to reducing stroke.
- Get moving. According to a study released just this past February, those who are less active are at a 20 percent greater risk of stroke. Exercise has long been known to be a definite defense against heart disease and other heart ailments, so the fact that toning up your cardiovascular system protects against stroke makes sense.
“Of course, there are several risk factors you can’t control, like your age, gender or family history,” Masor says. “But if you take care of yourself and start to manage the things you can control, you can cut your overall risk of having a stroke by up to 80 percent.”
Masor says to make certain you are talking to your doctor and keeping aware of all your risk factors.
“If you control these seven risk factors, you not only reduce your risk of stroke, but of other conditions, like heart disease and heart failure,” she says. “The brain and the heart are connected—what you do to one affects the other.”
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