How to Develop Habits to Ward Off Strokes
Having a stroke is something you may worry about as you get older. Of course, you can never completely ward off the possibility, but you can take substantial steps to decrease your risk, such as maintaining a healthy body weight through diet and exercise. It's also important to keep related medical issues under control, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. Finally, you can make a few changes in your life to cut out other risk factors.
Maintaining a Healthy Body and Weight
Eat right.A healthy diet can help decrease your chances of having a stroke, even if it doesn't help you lose weight. However, it's likely that making healthier choices will help you shed pounds, as well. The key is to eat a balanced diet overall, focused on healthy food choices.
- Make sure you are choosing lean proteins, such as skinless chicken, fish, or beans.
- Incorporate fruits and veggies as a regular part of your diet, about five to nine servings every day.
- Be sure to include whole grains. At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. That includes foods like whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, bulgur, and brown rice.
- Cut down on added sugars and sodium, as well as trans fats and saturated fats. Pick low-fat dairy as much as possible.Always read nutritional labels on food to understand what you're eating.
Add an exercise routine.Engaging in regular physical activity can help lower your risk of stroke. If you can handle it, try engaging in at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. For instance, you could try jogging, jumping rope, swimming, or spending some time at the gym.
Incorporate more physical activity into your daily life.While adding exercising time to your routine is helpful, it can be just as beneficial to increase your physical activity in other ways. Making small changes to your daily routine can make a huge difference.
- For instance, park farther out in the parking lot when you go to the store. Pick the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. Take mini breaks at work to walk around the office.
- You can also take a short walk after work. The key is to aim for about 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. If short, 10-minute bursts work best for you, then that's what you should do.
- An activity tracker on your watch or phone can help you keep track of how much movement you have done as well as let you fulfill daily goals.
Break up periods of sitting.Sitting for extended periods is also a risk factor for stroke. If you work a office job, for instance, you may find that you sit for long periods without moving. Try to get up and move around periodically to help get the blood flowing.
- Try setting an alarm to ring every hour, so that you're reminded to get up and move around for a minute.
Managing Risk Factors
Work on your blood pressure.If you're eating healthy and exercising, you're already taking steps to manage your blood pressure. You can also slow down on salt by picking low-sodium foods. If you have high blood pressure, cut back on your alcoholic intake, sticking to one drink per day.
- Processed foods tend to have higher levels of sodium. These include canned soups, frozen meals, packaged sauces, and deli meats. Try to limit how much processed food you eat, and choose low sodium options when available.
- If you can't manage your blood pressure through lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor about being on a blood pressure medication.
- Your target blood pressure will depend on your age and state of health.Generally, normal blood pressure is 120 or below on the top number and 80 or below on the bottom number.
- If your blood pressure is between 120 and 139 on the top number and between 80 and 89 on the bottom number, that's considered pre-hypertension (meaning you're in danger of developing high blood pressure). Anything above those ranges may be considered high blood pressure.
- Make sure you are checking your blood pressure regularly so you know what your ranges are. Keep in mind that blood pressure can change throughout the day. Sleep, activity, anxiety, stress, and excitement can all affect your blood pressure reading.
Decrease your cholesterol levels.Another risk factor for stroke is high cholesterol, at least high levels of "bad" cholesterol. Eating healthy is a key part of lowering bad cholesterol. Try to limit saturated fats, such as those in red meat and dairy. Also, try to limit trans fats. However, you don't need to cut fats altogether. Many vegetable fats, such as avocado, can help increase good cholesterol. Increasing fiber in your diet can also help you lower your cholesterol.
- You have two types of cholesterol: HDL (considered "good") and LDL (considered "bad"). HDL is good because it helps clean out your arteries, while LDL clogs them (which is what can lead to stroke). Therefore, it's important to decrease your levels of bad cholesterol in your blood.
- Inflammation in your body may cause your body to produce more cholesterol. If you can reduce the inflammation, you may be able to reduce the production of cholesterol. Some ways you can do this is by taking a cholesterol medication called a statin or by quitting smoking.
Control diabetes.People with uncontrolled diabetes are more likely to have a stroke. Make sure you are taking any medications and insulin as they are prescribed by your doctor. Check your blood sugars often, also as directed by your doctor, to ensure you are maintaining control, and follow your prescribed diet.
- Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to stroke because high blood sugar can cause damage to your blood vessels in the long run. In turn, you can develop blood clots that could cause a stroke. Therefore, it's important to take steps to keep your blood sugar under control.
Get regular checkups.Visiting the doctor regularly is an important part of managing risk factors. Your doctor can help you identify health problems that could increase your risk of stroke, as well as help you manage those problems to decrease your risk.
- For instance, your doctor can diagnose if you have atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heartbeat those over 65 are more likely to develop. This condition increases your risk of stroke, but it is treatable through electric stimulation or medication.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Have a drink.While this advice seems counter-intuitive, drinking may actually help prevent a stroke. The key is to do so in moderation; try to stick to a single drink a day. A single drink is 1.5 ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.Consult with your doctor to see if moderate alcohol intake can help you.
- Red wine is a good choice. The resveratrol in it provides additional health benefits to your heart and brain.
- People with certain health conditions should not drink once a day. These conditions include diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and insomnia.
- If you do not already drink alcohol, it may not be beneficial to start.
Quit smoking.Though drinking may help you, smoking does not. You probably know that smoking has many health risks, including an increased likelihood of developing lung disease. You may not know that smoking also increases your chances of having a stroke.
- If you're ready to quit smoking, tell your friends and family, as they can provide you with needed support.
- Don't be afraid to use aids to quit smoking, such as nicotine patches, pills, or gum.
- Keep trying. You might not be successful on the first try.
- Keep in mind that secondhand smoke can also be harmful. If you are exposed regularly to secondhand smoke, consider making changes to limit your exposure.
Take care of your teeth.This advice may seem a bit unconventional. After all, what do your teeth have to do with a stroke? However, links have been established between your dental health and heart health. Namely, bacteria that develop in the mouth can end up in the bloodstream, causing a rise in C-reactive protein. In turn, that protein can contribute to inflammation in blood vessels, a risk factor for stroke.
- Brush your teeth at least two times daily (with a fluoride toothpaste) for a total of two minutes. Make sure to floss daily, as well.
- Visit your dentist for regular checkups at least every 6 months.
Go to sleep.Sleep affects your overall health, which means you need to make sure you are getting enough of it. Getting less than 6 hours a night, in particular, puts you at a higher risk for stroke, but you should aim for 7 to 8 hours a night.
- If you have trouble getting to bed on time, try setting an alarm an hour before you should be in bed. Turn off your electronics at that time (as using them before bed can disturb your sleep), and start getting ready for bed.
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