5 tips to help prevent a stroke

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Heart disease and stroke are one of the major causes of death in North America, so understanding your risks can greatly improve your chances of avoiding complications.

Although age and family history increase the odds of a stroke greatly, taking your health into your own hands and making a few lifestyle changes can turn everything around. Take a look below for five ways to help you stay happy and healthy while preventing a stroke.

Reduce your stress

Stress is a known cause of stroke, so reducing or eliminating stressors in your life can have a major impact on your health. And this doesn’t just mean heading to a yoga class twice a week and taking long baths (although those can be very helpful), you’ll also need to keep your temper under control and keep depression at bay, both of which are stressful on your body and health.

People who are quick to anger, or who are aggressive in nature, are at a higher risk for stroke and heart disease, as are people who struggle with depression. Next time your fuse is running short, try taking deep breaths or going for a walk. Exercise and sleep are two of the best cures for stress and anger, so make sure you work both into your daily schedule.

Knowing the difference between sadness and depression can help you understand when to seek help, or when to change habits that might be causing your negative emotions. If you find yourself prone to bouts of depression or anxiety, speak with a professional and find new ways to stay positive. Maintaining healthy and happy relationships, and making time for activities that make you laugh are a great way to reduce stress and boost emotional health.

Eat well

This one might seem obvious, but in reality, it can be difficult to eat healthy on a daily basis, and it can be even more difficult to lose weight once it is gained. Obesity—especially diabetes related obesity—raises your risk of stroke immensely. Luckily, along with regular exercise, a healthy diet can make you feel better and help you maintain a healthy body mass index.

Portion control, reducing sugar intake, cutting out processed and fried food, eating lean cuts of meat (especially poultry and fish), and focusing on fruits and vegetables will help ensure your diet isn’t hurting your body. One handy trick to remember is to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. If you’re not sure how to make changes to your diet, try speaking with a nutritionist or dietician.

Get some exercise

This is another really important tip. Regular exercise can help with many ailments, including depression, obesity, and fatigue, and certain exercises can also help with arthritis and other long-term injuries. Along with a healthy diet, exercise can help you lose weight. If you are overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can help make a difference when it comes to your heart and brain health.

Exercise doesn’t mean running on a treadmill anymore either; you can take a water aerobics class, try relaxing hatha yoga, feel the rhythm at zumba, lift weights, or even just go for a long walk. Walking briskly for two hours a week (about 20 minutes a day) can reduce your risk of stroke by up to 30%. You’ll also be surprised by how much more energy you have, and how much better your emotional health will be from a little daily exercise.

Quit smoking

If you want a quick way to greatly reduce your risk of stroke, smoking cessation is your answer. Smoking thickens your blood and increases plaque build-up in your arteries, leading to clots and other issues. Not only does smoking increase your chance of stroke, it also increases your risk of heart disease, lung disease, and peripheral vascular disease.

Second-hand smoke is just as bad, so not only are you causing yourself harm, but you are also endangering those around you. Speak with a professional if quitting is something you have tried and failed in the past, and reach out to friends and family for support.

Monitor your health

This can mean many things, but mainly it refers to any ongoing health issues and medication intake. Understanding your body and when it is in distress will help you seek treatment early and avoid complications. Monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol, heart palpitations, and migraines will help you reduce your risk of stroke.

If you already have diabetes or heart disease, be sure you are receiving the correct treatment and be aware of any new combinations of medication. Be sure to speak with a professional before starting any new supplements or even vitamins. Also keep an eye on your genetic history; if a close relative suffered from a stroke, your chances may be increased.

Finally, don’t forget about FAST, a handy mnemonic used to identify stroke:

F – Face – Is it drooping, numb, or uneven? Do you have vision loss or an unusually severe headache?

A – Arms – Are they numb or weak, and are you able to lift them above your head? Can you walk?

S – Speech – Are your words slurred, muted, or jumbled?

T – Time – Recognizing the above symptoms and calling for help as soon as possible will help increase your chance of recovery.

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