Stroke is an injury to the brain that occurs when the brain's blood supply is interrupted. Blood carries oxygen, which is necessary for all cells in the body to survive. The brain has one of the highest demands for oxygen. In fact, cells in the brain start to die if they are without oxygen-rich blood for more than a few minutes. The death of these brain cells can result in permanent brain damage.
Keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy can significantly decrease the risk of most strokes. There are many factors that can affect your cardiovascular health and the more factors you control, the more you reduce your risk of a stroke. Five controllable factors are:
- Reach and Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight or obese, talk to your doctor about a plan to lose weight. Adopt a sensible eating plan and exercise regularly. To help maintain your weight loss at the desired level, plan to lose weight gradually. Consider consulting with a dietitian, who can help you with meal planning and portion sizing.
Chemicals in tobacco smoke contribute to the build up of plaque in the arteries, increasing your risk of atherosclerosis. Over time, this increases the risk of blood clots, which can block blood flow to the brain.
Quitting smoking is the best way to get on the right track. Talk with your doctor about tools and programs to help you quit. Secondhand smoke can be damaging as well so avoid it when possible.
- Drink Alcohol in Moderation
According to the National Stroke Association, “Alcohol use has been linked to stroke in many studies. Drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure and the risk of stroke.” Excess alcohol intake is associated with an increased risk of heart arrhythmias, which may affect blood flow to the brain. If you drink alcohol, aim for moderation. Moderate alcohol intake means no more than two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women.
Eat a Healthful Diet
Your diet has a significant impact on your "bad" and "good" cholesterol levels. Managing cholesterol levels with a well-balanced diet can reduce your risk of stroke by reducing the amount of plaque build-up in your blood vessels.
A well-balanced diet includes plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Substituting bad fats for good fats, like olive and canola oil, and limiting added sugar and sodium, also is beneficial. “An observational study of more than 7,600 French adults age 65 and older found that those who regularly use olive oil cut their chance of stroke by just over 40%,” according to prevention.com. General recommendations include adding fish containing healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and lean proteins to your diet at least twice per week. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take omega-3 supplements.
- Exercise Regularly
Regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, using a stationary bike, or treadmill, can help reduce the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. These activities also help to lower blood pressure, enhance blood circulation, increase good cholesterol, and decrease the demands on the heart. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day on most days of the week.
In addition to these activities, the risk of stroke may be reduced significantly if you work with your doctor to control other health conditions you may have. These include hypertension, diabetes or pre-diabetes, and obstructive sleep apnea. The bottom line? There are several options within your control to help reduce your risk of having a stroke.
If you want assistance in reducing your risk of a stroke, see your physician. Tara Wickline, FNP, is available to discuss the symptoms and develop a plan to potentially avoid them. To schedule an appointment, call the office at (540) 265-1607 or book an appointment online below.