Research shows women are more at risk than men to be affected by strokes and less likely to recover (Bushnell, C.D et al. 2009). These statistics may be due to women having a longer life expectancy than men. There is a higher incidence of having a stroke at an older age, as with age our body naturally becomes weaker and our blood pressure increases.
According to the World Health Organization, 15 million people suffer from a stroke worldwide each year. Of those, 5 million die and another 5 million are permanently disabled.
With these facts in mind, how can you prevent a stroke?
1. What is your blood pressure?
High blood pressure is the biggest contributor to an increased risk of stroke. A high blood pressure is classified as over 135/83 (as stated from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention). If your blood pressure is high or reaching the higher end, follow these steps to help take action and lower it:
– Reduce the salt (sodium) in your diet
– Reduce the cholesterol in your diet
– Increase your servings of vegetables and fruit
– Increase exercise to at least 30 minutes daily
2. How much do you weigh?
Ideally, your BMI should be 25 or less to reduce the excess fat in your body and inflammation which can lead to poor blood flow and potential blockages. Manage your diet and caloric intake and increase your exercise.
3. How much do you exercise?
Exercise at least for 30 minutes every day to decrease your risk of stroke. Walk, go to the gym, do yoga, swim, ride your bike to work, take the stairs. Reach a level of activity where you are breathing hard but can still talk.
4. How much alcohol do you consume?
1 drink a day with food is considered acceptable, however once you go up to 2 your risk of stroke goes up sharply. When choosing your drink, red wine is best. The American Heart Association shows red wine contains resveratrol which helps to prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce “bad” cholesterol and prevent blood clots.
5. What do you eat on a daily basis?
Your diet plays a large role in your overall health. The consumption of foods high in sodium can cause your body to retain fluid increasing your blood pressure. A diet high in saturated fats, processed foods, high in sugar can also all affect your risk of having a health condition like a stroke (Spence 2018). Research shows a diet with a high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes is best for your health with a limited intake of meat, dairy and egg yolks (Spence 2018).
6. Do you have any underlying heart conditions?
Heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat) cause clots to form in the heart which can then travel to the brain and cause a stroke. A check up with your GP can easily determine if you have any irregularities to treat.
7. Do you have diabetes?
High blood pressure damages blood vessels over time causing clots to form inside. Ensure to manage your diabetes and if possible, cure it.
8. Do you smoke?
Smoking accelerates clot formation, thickens blood and increases plaque build-up in your blood vessels.
9. Are you stressed?
Being under stress leads to a temporary rise in blood pressure. Manage your stress and find ways to decrease stress in your life. Take up meditation, decrease your workload and ask for help from those around you in your work and personal life.
10. Do you have any genetic risk factors?
Ask your family if strokes run in your genes, if so you may need to take extra care as your baseline will be slightly higher than those that don’t have a genetic predisposition to strokes.
Get ahead of it
The Stroke Foundation recommends you get a head start with a personal health check during September at one of the many SiSU Health Stations around Sydney. At these self-serve stations you can track your health easily – it only takes 4 minutes! Measure your blood pressure, weight, body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage and heart rate.
Bushnell, C.D., Duncan, P.W., Gargano, J.W., Howard, G., Khatiwoda, A., Lisabeth, L., Lynch, G. & Reeves, M.J. 2009, ‘Sex differences in stroke: epidemiology, clinical presentation, medical care and outcomes’, Lancet Neurology, vol. 7, no. 10, pp. 915-926.
Spence, D.J. 2018, ‘Diet for stroke prevention’, Stroke and Vascular Neurology, pp. 1- 7.