Stroke is a leading cause of disability and the fifth largest cause of death in the United States. However, the landmark INTERSTROKE study published in The Lancet found that 10 modifiable risk factors contribute to 90 percent of strokes. The excellent news here is the “modifiable” part of the equation—most of these factors can be completely avoided, or at least modified.1 2
Effective, major health improvements can be made in many ways. Some people can make immediate changes when they put their mind to it, while others have more success making gradual changes. One key fo success is setting specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based—also known as S.M.A.R.T.—goals for lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle Risk Factors
How we care for our bodies makes a big impact when it comes to lowering our risk of stroke. Eating right, getting exercise, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco can dramatically reduce your odds of having a stroke. Here’s a closer look:
Smoking not only increases the risk of stroke, but it is also estimated to subtract 10 years from one’s lifespan.3 Getting tips, strategies, stories, and encouragement from people who have successfully quit smoking can be inspirational. And if that doesn’t help, consider how smoking results in premature aging.
You might be surprised at how easy it is to incorporate easy weight loss methods into your life. Not only can you find yourself dropping pounds, but by slowing down and being more mindful of your food, you may also find yourself enjoying meals much more.
We know we should be exercising, but many of us simply don’t like it and when you ALSO:READlike to do something, it is very easy to find lots of excuses not to do it. Instead of starting from a place of trying to do something you simply hate to do, why don’t you wipe the slate clean and look at exercise from a new perspective? Learn to like, even love, exercise, and it will be much easier to commit to an exercise habit.
There are many opinions about what exactly constitutes a healthy diet, which often leaves the average person confused to the point that they give up. However, there are some things that are pretty universal here—more vegetables, less trans fats, fewer trips through fast-food restaurants. Add fruit to increase your longevity and adopt an overall longevity diet plan.
Limit Alcohol, Avoid Binge Drinking
Drinking heavily is bad for your health for many reasons. Alcohol also increases stroke risk and there is a link between alcohol and brain aging.4
Living a healthy lifestyle also helps prevent stroke by making it easier to manage chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. However, some people require additional strategies, like medication, to manage their condition. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following:
High Blood Pressure
While there are medications to control hypertension (high blood pressure), lifestyle change is a key component of keeping blood pressure down. Following the DASH Diet and avoiding salt can help reduce blood pressure and lower your stroke risk.5
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of stroke than the general population.6 This risk is much higher when blood glucose levels are elevated over long periods. Monitoring and managing your blood sugar is important for lowering your risk of complications. Work with your doctor to determine the right course of treatment for you and strategies to help you stick with it.
An unbalanced ratio of HDL (good) cholesterol to LDL (bad) cholesterol ratio can increase the risk of stroke. To fix this, doctors recommend raising HDL levels and lowering LDL levels. In addition to the above lifestyle modifications, medications, such as statins, can help. Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol levels and what you can do to improve them.
As we age, our hearts have to adapt to our changing bodies our arteries lose flexibility, our heart walls thicken and it becomes harder for our hearts to keep up with increased demand. All of these things (and others) are made worse when we have heart disease, such as coronary artery disease, angina or other problems that can lead to heart attacks. There are several approaches to managing heart disease, which involves medications, diet, and exercise—many of the same things that will also reduce the risk of stroke.
Both stress and depression can contribute to stroke.2 We know that we feel worse when we are “stressed,” but there is also significant evidence that stress impacts the frequency of negative health events, like a stroke. Depression also has serious physical consequences and can lead to victims neglecting their health. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, or depression.
By taking steps to improve in these areas, you will no doubt feel better along the way. In addition to reducing your risk for stroke, you will also reduce your risk of heart attacks.