AHA News: 5 Essential Steps To Help Prevent A Stroke | Health Info
By American Heart Association News, HealthDay reporter
WEDNESDAY, May 5, 2021 (American Heart Association News) – If there’s one good thing to say about strokes, it’s this: the vast majority of them don’t need to happen.
Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes and working with healthcare professionals to control stroke risk factors. Researchers have identified many steps people can take to reduce stroke risk, but health experts agree, trying to do them all at the same time can seem overwhelming.
“The biggest mistake people make is that they get too ambitious and then fail and give up,” said Dr. Vladimir Hachinski, Canadian neurologist and global stroke expert. “You have to start small.”
The rewards are huge, said Dr Cheryl Bushnell, neurologist and director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This is “not only to prevent stroke, but also to prevent dementia. You can do the same things to prevent both. You kill two birds with one stone.”
Here are five ways to get started on the road to prevention.
Studies show that for every five cigarettes a person smokes each day, the risk of having a stroke increases by 12%. For black adults, smoking cigarettes more than doubles the risk of stroke compared to never smoking, according to a 2020 study.
“People understand that smoking causes lung cancer, but they don’t understand that it also damages the brain and blood vessels,” Bushnell said. “In terms of stroke prevention, quitting smoking is the lowest fruit.”
Men and women who are more active have a 25% to 30% lower risk of stroke than those who are less active. Physical activity has been shown to lower cholesterol, help maintain a healthy weight, and lower blood pressure – all of which may reduce the risk of stroke.
“The evidence for physical activity is overwhelming,” said Bushnell, co-author of a 2014 American Heart Association and American Stroke Association statement on stroke prevention. “Even moving for 10 minutes every hour is better than sitting for a long time. You don’t have to run a 5 km.”
Hachinski has placed exercise among the top three things a person could do to reduce stroke risk – and agrees that it shouldn’t be overly ambitious. “The worst thing that can happen is sitting all day. Walking is the best exercise there is. Get up and walk.”
Keep blood pressure under control
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is the leading cause of stroke. Half of men – 52% – and 43% of women in the United States have too high blood pressure, according to statistics from the AHA. Although it can be controlled by lifestyle changes or by taking medication, only about 1 in 5 adults keep it properly managed. Smoking, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and unhealthy eating can push blood pressure out of the healthy range.
Home monitoring and regular communication with doctors to make sure medications are working are important for controlling high blood pressure, Bushnell said.
“People have to monitor their own blood pressure,” she says. “They need to know how many there are, what their medications are and how to take them.”
“One of the more subtle things that happen to people as they get older is that they gain weight,” Hachinski said.
Paying attention to choosing healthy foods can minimize weight gain, he said. But it helps to make healthier food choices, regardless of weight.
“Nutrition is more important than weight loss,” Bushnell agreed. “There are several diets that reduce the risk of stroke”, such as dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) or Mediterranean diets. Both focus on consuming lots of low-fat fruits, vegetables and dairy, whole grains, fish, and nuts, while reducing foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fat. .
Strokes also happen to young people. About 10% to 15% of all strokes occur in adults 50 years of age or younger. Recent research shows that young black adults are up to four times more likely than their white peers.
And recent research shows that the same factors that cause strokes in older people – like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes – cause strokes in young adults. .
“You don’t think about illness when you’re young,” Hachinski said. But this is where good habits should start.
Hachinski recommends that people start monitoring their blood pressure, cholesterol, lipids, and blood sugar levels as soon as they transition from pediatrician to primary care physician as a young adult. “If you go to college or if you leave home, your habits will change then. You start to eat on your own. Now is a good time to think about how to prevent disease.
Other life transitions – like moving in with a partner – should also be triggers for checking health metrics, he said. “Now is a good time to take inventory because that’s when habits will change.”
It doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking, Hachinski said. Focus on one thing to get started. “Identify the most important thing that you are missing,” he says. “Is this exercise? Are you snacking too much?”
Set yourself a specific, measurable goal, he said, then break it into parts and stick to it until you hit it. Having a partner can help maintain motivation, provided that person has healthy habits. “If you can get someone to do it with you, you double your chances of success.”
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. The copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments on this story, please email [email protected]
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