From Baptist Health South Florida
3 min. read
About half of American adults have at least one risk factor for stroke, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar or being overweight. Moreover, many adults don’t realize they can help prevent strokes through lifestyle modifications involving nutrition and exercise, and tending to medical screenings to determine if underlying risk factors are present.
There are some things we can’t control, such as aging, which increases the likelihood of high blood pressure. But even being older is no guarantee of a greater risk of stroke. A recent report on strokes and young people published by the American Heart Association found that the rate of strokes more than doubled in people ages 35 to 39 over the last two decades.
However, stroke rates overall have been declining for decades for people 55 and older. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has attributed this trend to a reduction in the U.S. smoking rate and a broader awareness of high blood pressure and high cholesterol as risk factors.
(Video: The Baptist Health South Florida News Team hears from Felipe De Los Rios, M.D., Medical Director, Stroke Program at Baptist Health Neuroscience Center, about stroke prevention. Watch now. Video by Steve Pipho.)
“It’s important we all realize that strokes are a preventable,” says Felipe De Los Rios, M.D., Medical Director, Stroke Program at Baptist Health Neuroscience Center. “There are seven basic things you can do to lower your risk of stroke.”
Ways to Prevent Strokes
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke in both men and women. The goal for most people should be to maintain a blood pressure of less than 120/80. But for some hypertensive patients, a less aggressive goal (such as 140/90) may be more appropriate. Monitor your blood pressure as directed by your doctor. Diet, exercise and medication can keep your blood pressure within the recommended range.
Having diabetes, or “prediabetes” which increases the risk of developing the chronic disease, can damage blood vessels over time, making clots more likely to form and increasing your stroke risk. Monitor your blood sugar as directed by your doctor and make necessary adjustments to diet and medications. Regular exercise can also help prevent or manage diabetes.
To get the nutrients you need and help prevent strokes and heart disease, choose foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products and fat-free or low-fat dairy products most often, doctors and dietitians recommend. A health diet that avoids processed foods, excessive sugar and fats can help you reduce three risk factors for heart disease and stroke — high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess body weight.
Research shows that drinking large amounts of alcohol can significantly increase your risk of having a stroke. A recent study found that people who drink in middle age have a one-third higher risk for stroke, compared to light drinkers. Moreover, heavy drinkers are more likely to have strokes at a younger age, the study found.
It has been widely accepted for decades that smoking can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Smokers are three times more likely to have a stroke than non-smokers because the chemicals from tobacco smoke increase your risk of higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol. Those chemicals can increase the likelihood of damage to artery walls and the blood’s tendency to form clots.
Treating obesity and the many complications linked to being overweight, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, is important for overall health and stroke prevention as well. If you are overweight, just losing as few as 10 pounds can have a significant impact on your stroke risk. But consult your doctor to determine your weight goals and nutritional modifications.
Exercise is another lifestyle choice which can improve your overall physical and emotional health. Exercising at a moderate intensity — brisk walking is a good start — for at least five days a week can go a long way toward reducing your stroke risk. Here are the generally accepted recommendations for physical activity from the American Heart Association.
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