1. Many people fear having a stroke, and rightfully so, considering that it is the third leading cause of death in the United States and a major cause of disability in this country. According to statistics compiled in 2006 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), strokes were responsible for one in 17 deaths in America.

    A stroke, also known as a cerebral vascular accident (CVA), can occur any time a blood clot blocks an artery, causing a blockage of blood flow to a certain part of the brain. A stroke can also be caused by a ruptured artery, preventing blood flow to a part of the brain. In either case, the brain cells in the affected part begin to die. The physical or mental ability controlled by that portion of the brain now becomes damaged. The impairment can involve the person’s memory, their ability to move certain parts of their body, or it might affect their speech. If the damage is severe enough the stroke can be fatal.

    There are many factors that can lead to a stroke. Some of these are controllable and others are not. For example, persons with a family history of strokes tend to run a much higher risk for stroke. Age is another factor as strokes are more prevalent in persons over the age of 55, although they can and do occur in any age group. A person who has had a stroke or a heart attack in the past is also more subject to having another one. Race and gender are other issues that come into play. Studies have shown that Blacks are more at risk than Caucasians for having a stroke, and men more so than women. Factors like this are generally not within your control to change. There are four things you can do, however, to help reduce your risk of having a stroke, things that are within your ability to control.

    1) Get more exercise

    If you have a sedentary job or know your lifestyle overall is pretty inactive, it is important you find time every day to get out in the fresh air and exercise. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes five times per week have lower blood pressure readings and this can help reduce the risk of stroke. There are many forms of activity you can engage in such as walking, biking, yard work, jogging, etc. The important thing is to get moving and be consistent in your exercise regime.

    2) Quit smoking

    Cigarette smoking causes multiple problems within the cardiovascular system. According to the American Heart Association, persons who smoke place themselves at a higher risk for peripheral arterial disease and aortic aneurysm (ruptured blood vessel). Not only can cigarette smoking increase your blood pressure, it also increases your tendency to develop blood clots and clots can cause a stroke. Smoking of course affects your lungs and if your lungs are compromised you will have less tolerance for exercise. All of these factors place you at higher risk for stroke.

    3) Reduce your stress level

    Be aware of circumstances that might increase your stress level. High stress levels elevate the blood pressure and chronic stress can indirectly lead to stroke as it keeps your blood pressure elevated. The dangers of high blood pressure, or hypertension as it is often called, have been well documented. Many people have untreated elevated blood pressure, not realizing that this is one of the leading causes of a stroke. Interestingly, hypertension is a disease that is easy to control, usually with diet changes and medication. If your physician has prescribed medication to control your blood pressure, be sure to take it as directed.

    4) Watch your diet

    Many people need to give serious consideration to what they eat. High caloric diets will cause excess weight gain and of course the more pounds you carry above your average weight the more inclined you are to developing illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. If your diet is high in saturated fats and cholesterol you are more prone to developing fat plaques in your blood vessels and this can lead to a stroke. Excessive salt is also problematic as it causes the body to retain fluid which can increase your blood pressure and may also cause a stroke.  

    The risk of a stroke should not be taken lightly. It is not just an illness that occurs in the elderly population. Be determined to take control of your health and make changes to lower your risk factors. Paying closer attention to your overall health can help you be more aware when changes need to be made.

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