Each day, advances in health care help us live longer, fuller lives. Unfortunately, many Americans are becoming more and more reliant on medications and procedures rather than lifestyle changes in preventing a second stroke – or even a first one.
The American Heart Association recommends making seven changes in your life:
- Eliminating tobacco use
- Getting regular exercise
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
- Keeping blood pressure in check
- Controlling cholesterol
- Maintaining normal blood sugar levels
- Enjoying a diet full of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains
Why are these seven things so important?
Smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke increases plaque in your blood vessels, while thickening and narrowing those vessels and damaging the cells that line those vessels. It also makes your blood more likely to clot. Smoking also lowers good HDL cholesterol and raises triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood.
Regular exercise is vital to cut your risk of stroke. It lowers your blood pressure and helps you lose weight. It raises your heart rate, strengthening your blood vessels. Brisk walking 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days at week can cut your stroke risk by 27%.
Losing extra pounds and then maintaining a healthy weight eases the stress on your circulatory system, including veins, arteries and heart. Excess weight also raises blood pressure, can cause diabetes and causes sleep apnea, all of which are additional stroke risk factors. Lose just 10% of your body weight and you’ll lower your risk.
High blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels damage your blood vessels. High blood pressure weakens your arteries, so they are more likely to clog or burst. High LDL cholesterol causes fatty deposits in your arteries that narrow and harden these blood vessel, and makes developing a blood clot more likely. Elevated blood sugar contributes to plaque buildup in your blood vessels, interfering with blood flow.
Eating a healthy diet of whole fruits, vegetables, grains and lean proteins ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients you need and none of the sugar, fat and salt you don’t. Set a goal of eliminating processed foods like cereals, frozen meals, boxed meals, boxed vegetables or flavored rices, pastas or white bread (and much more!) for one month and enjoy how much better you feel – along with the weight you’ll lose!
How are patients ignoring this advice?
While patients are seeing positive results in their numbers by using medication to control cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, the rate of obesity in stroke survivors has increased from 18% in 1988 to 39% in 2014. Those getting no exercise at all increased from 45% to 71%. Patients with unhealthy diets surged from just 14% to 51%.
Using medication to control some risk factors is smart, and your primary care physician and your specialists will work together to ensure you are taking the correct types and dosages to keep risk factors as low as possible. However, medication can’t control your tobacco use, activity level, weight, and diet – and these are also vital risk factors for a first or second stroke. These factors are in your control.
Put down the potato chips and cigarettes, put on your walking shoes and put your health first! When you need help with smoking cessation, an activity schedule, weight loss or a daily meal plan, just call our office at 815-824-4406. We will be happy to help!