When it comes to leading causes of death in the United States, stroke is always near the top of the list. And while there are certain factors which make strokes unpreventable, there are also a number of steps individuals can take to lower their risk.
Most adults can name a friend, family member, coworker, or acquaintance who has suffered from a stroke. Strokes are dreadfully common in the US and it’s imperative that we spark more dialogue on this topic. For perspective, just check out the following statistics as curated by StrokeCenter.org:
- Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the US, killing more than 140,000 people annually.
- Stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the US.
- Every calendar year, roughly 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke. Three out of four of these individuals experience their first attack.
- 75 percent of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65. In fact, the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.
- On average, an American has a stroke every 40 seconds.
For those who are unfamiliar with strokes and how they occur, it’s important to understand that there are two basic categories: ischemic and hemorrhagic.
Ischemic stroke occurs when blood vessels in the brain are clogged or constricted preventing blood flow to the brain. This type of stroke can be caused in a couple of different ways. Thrombotic ischemic strokes are caused by a blood clot that forms in an artery and goes to the brain. Embolic ischemic strokes are clots that form in the heart or neck and travel to the brain.
Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures in the brain. This can also occur in one of two ways. Subarachnoid hemorrhage strokes happen when blood vessels rupture and bleed between the brain and skull. Intracerebral hemorrhage strokes occur when a blood vessel bleeds into the deep tissue of the brain.
5 Tips for Preventing Strokes
While you don’t necessarily need to know how strokes happen on an anatomical level, you do need to know how you can lower your own risk and live a happy, healthy life.
Here are a few practical tips:
- Get Regular Exercise
The best thing you can do for your overall health is to get more exercise. In addition to helping you lose weight and improve heart health, it also significantly lowers your risk of stroke.
“Shoot for 30 minutes of exercise that gets your heart pumping at least 5 days a week,” WebMD suggests. “Brisk walking or swimming are some good choices. On the other 2 days, do strength training, like lifting weights.”
Can’t get 30 minutes of continuous exercise in? Well, the good news is that fitness isn’t “all or nothing.” A quick 15-minute exercise in the morning and another 15-minute session in the afternoon or evening is better than doing nothing.
- Get Optimal Sleep
According to data analysis of more than 200,000 Americans with high blood pressure, scientists have determined that insufficient sleepers logging less than five hours of sleep per night have an 83 percent higher risk of stroke when compared to healthy sleepers getting eight hours of shuteye per evening.
The evidence seems pretty convincing. If you want to lower your risk of stroke, get enough sleep per night. This gives your body a chance to adequately recuperate on a cellular level.
- Improve Diet
As is typically the case with health issues, an improved diet can greatly reduce your risk of experiencing first-time stroke.
Food Revolution Network lead editor Lindsay Oberst says, “Studies find that for every 7 grams of fiber you eat per day, you get nearly a 7% drop in the risk of first-time stroke. But less than 3% of Americans meet the minimum daily recommendation for fiber.”
In addition to consuming a diet that’s high healthy fiber, you should also be consuming foods that are rich in antioxidants, vitamin B12, potassium, and magnesium.
- Take Heart Medication
“It sounds like a no-brainer, but don’t skip your meds,” WebMD reminds us. “Many people don’t take their medications the way their doctor told them to. Figure out what keeps you from taking your medicine – it could be side effects, cost, or forgetfulness – and ask your doctor for help.”
While medication is important, you should never rely on medication as your only tool for preventing strokes. There is no replacement for healthy living and medication should only be used when absolutely necessary.
- Pay Attention to Symptoms
Finally, make sure you’re aware of the signs and symptoms of stroke so that you can seek medical attention as soon as possible. The handy mnemonic is FAST:
- Face: Look for droopiness, numbness, vision disturbance, or uneven smile.
- Arms and legs: numbness, weakness, or difficulty walking.
- Speech: slurred, mute, or strange sentences.
- Time: Know that time is of the essence. The faster you can get medical attention, the fewer long-term symptoms there will be.
Taking a Proactive Approach
It’s time that we stop maintaining a reactive posture in response to strokes, which kill hundreds of Americans every single day. While there are certain risk factors that can’t be changed, most Americans can drastically reduce their chances of experiencing a deadly stroke by making healthy and proactive decisions about their personal health.
Are you ready to step up and do what’s best for you, your family, and your loved ones?
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