Strokes hit nearly 800,000 people every year in the United States alone, and over 15% of them are fatal. It’s one of the leading causes of death, accounting for just under 5% of all deaths. Studies indicate that up to 80% of strokes are preventable, so roughly 640,000 people every year didn’t have to suffer a stroke. Don’t think that this is a problem for the elderly, either – about one third of all strokes are people under the age of 65. These 10 tips are easy ways that you can reduce your risk of stroke, potentially significantly reducing your chances of dying from health issues at a young age.
Drink lots of water
Your body needs fluid to function – there’s no way around that simple fact. By drinking at least the recommended amount of water every day, you ensure that your blood maintains the right viscosity level. Dehydration lets your blood thicken, which can raise the risk of clotting. Adequate fluid intake is especially important if you’re on diuretics.
Avoid a sedentary lifestyle
Get up and move at least once every 30 minutes, no matter what you’re doing. If you’re on a road trip, do seated exercises during the drive and pull over to walk no less than once every hour. Stretch out, and move your limbs and spine through their entire range of motion. This keeps fluids from pooling in your extremities and ensures good circulation in all of your vessels, potentially guarding against blood clots and weakened tissues in the circulatory system.
Maintain a healthy weight
Nothing causes more health problems than obesity. Even if you’re moderately overweight, you have a heightened risk of stroke. Talk to a dietician and find healthy ways to get your weight under control and keep it at a healthy level.
Few things will do more to reduce the risk of health problems than good exercise. As well as ensuring good blood flow by getting your blood pumping, exercise also dilates your blood vessels for easier flow, super-oxygenates the blood, helps stimulate your digestive tract and pushes toxins out.
Nicotine causes your blood vessels to shrink down, temporarily heightening your blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure or borderline hypertension, this can be really bad news for your circulatory health. Smokers are up to six times more likely to have a stroke than non-smokers.
Limit or eliminate alcohol
It’s very clear that heavy alcohol use increases the risk of stroke – researchers just aren’t exactly sure why. Heavy drinking does increase the risk of high blood pressure, may cause cardiac arrhythmia, and can cause a number of circulatory abnormalities. It’s best to drink in moderation or not at all.
Keep tabs on your blood pressure
No matter how old you are, make sure to monitor your blood pressure. Even if it’s just stopping at a blood pressure station in your local pharmacy every now and then, stop and get a number. It will vary with machine calibration, how much you’ve walked that day and a number of other factors, but you will get a sense of your typical range. If you see sudden, drastic changes, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Hypertension has virtually no symptoms, and can damage your heart and blood vessels long before you know anything is wrong if you’re not paying attention.
Cut back on the salt
High sodium levels pull extra fluid into the bloodstream, causing high blood pressure. Cut back on adding table salt to your food, and try to avoid processed meats and other high-sodium choices. It’s impossible – and deadly – to eliminate all of the sodium in your diet, but it’s also extremely easy to go way over the recommended amounts every day.
Know the signs of a TIA, and respond to them
Time is of the essence in strokes – the faster it’s addressed, the better. Many strokes are preceded by a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is often referred to as a “mini stroke.” TIA may have some similar symptoms to a full stroke, but it probably won’t cause lasting symptoms or brain damage. It is, however, a warning sign of stroke. Know the signs of TIA, and get to a hospital immediately if you think you’ve experienced one. It’s okay to go to the hospital even if you think you’re overreacting – it won’t hurt you to find out nothing is wrong, but it could save your life to get attention before a full stroke hits.
Get regular checkups
Regular physical exams can help head off some of the biggest health risks before they have a chance to become a problem. Your doctor will check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and check for signs of serious health issues such as Type II diabetes.
While a lot of people don’t die from a stroke, it can easily cause lasting brain damage. Non-fatal strokes often cause partial paralysis, impaired cognitive function, or other serious problems. Once you have a stroke it’s fairly likely that you will have another at some point in your life, but that likelihood skyrockets if you don’t address your primary risk factors.