Insight Neurosurgery – Strokes are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds and dies of a stroke every 3.5 minutes. Each year, almost 800,000 Americans have a stroke and about 610,000 of these are first or new strokes. Although these statistics may seem discouraging, the good news is most strokes can be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes and working with a healthcare provider to control the risk factors associated with them. As we celebrate American Heart Month, a national time dedicated to understanding and preventing all aspects of heart disease, including heart attacks, strokes, and aneurysms, now is a great time to think about stroke prevention. The following are five key steps everyone should take to prevent strokes and improve their heart health.

Stop Smoking

People often associate smoking with lung cancer, but smoking is also a major contributor to heart disease and increases your risk of having a stroke. A study in the journal Medicine found that for every five cigarettes a person smokes each day, the risk of having a stroke increases by 12%. In black adults, smoking cigarettes more than doubles the likelihood of having a stroke, according to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Not only do cigarettes affect the smoker, but they also have a direct impact on those exposed to secondhand smoke. The CDC reports more than 8,000 deaths from strokes are caused by secondhand smoke exposure each year.

Make Physical Activity a Priority

Regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and can make a big impact in preventing strokes. National studies have found even moderate increases in physical activity can reduce the risk of a stroke by as much as 40%. Your goal should be to participate in some form of moderate intensity exercise at least five days a week. This can be something as simple as walking around your neighborhood for 15-30 minutes, gardening or yard work, and taking stairs instead of elevators. Anything that gets you moving and boosting blood flow can make a considerable difference in heart health and stroke prevention.

Lower Blood Pressure & Cholesterol

According to the American Heart Association, more than half of all men and almost half of all women (52% and 42%) have high blood pressure. Of those with high blood pressure, only one in five are taking active steps to manage their condition. High blood pressure is currently the leading cause of stroke, but it can be controlled with lifestyle changes and medication. Other factors, such as cholesterol and diabetes, also play a significant role in increasing blood pressure. Taking steps to monitor your blood pressure, getting regular checkups, and working with your doctor to bring your numbers down will reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Improve Your Diet

Choosing healthy food and drink options is another key factor in preventing strokes and improving your overall health. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and protein-rich foods (e.g. fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts) are all good heart-healthy choices. A heart-healthy diet limits sodium (salt), saturated fats, and added sugars. You should also limit how much alcohol you drink, which can add calories to your diet, raise your blood pressure, and contribute to heart failure. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has many resources on healthy eating, serving sizes, and understanding food nutrition labels that can help you make more informed food choices.

Lose Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is another crucial part in preventing strokes and heart disease. Excess weight strains the circulatory system and contributes to many of the health conditions that cause strokes, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and sleep disorders. Two of the best ways to lose weight are included in this list: choose a healthy diet with plenty of fresh foods and sensible portions and be physically active on a regular basis. It’s never too early to get started! According to recent data, about 10%-15% of all strokes occur in younger adults (under 50) – and many are linked to obesity and its related conditions.

February is a month for all things related to hearts and a great reminder to make smart choices that will keep your heart healthy and strong for the rest of your life. Whether it’s taking time to be more active or choosing healthier food options, even small steps can make a difference in preventing strokes and improving heart health. If you have questions about stroke prevention and our services at Insight Neurosurgery, contact us today to schedule an appointment.