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Spring 2011

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Control Your Stroke Risk

Exercise, Stop Smoking and Eat Healthier

By Pam Peters, Managing Editor

We’ve all heard how important it is to exercise and keep a healthy weight for countless health reasons. Reducing the risk of a first or second stroke is probably one of the most important. Although stroke is one of the leading causes of disability in the U.S., it is also possible to reduce one’s stroke risk with lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle Choices

People with high risk conditions (hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and atrial fibrillation) as well as those with low risks should adopt the following lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of having a stroke.

Stop Smoking: Smoking greatly increases the risk of stroke and quitting is a major way you can reduce stroke risk. As soon as someone stops smoking, stroke risk decreases. Get support from a smoking cessation program and drop the habit for good.

Get Moving: Exercise is another important way to reduce the risks of a stroke. With exercise equaling 30 minutes of brisk walking, five times per week, stroke risk can be reduced by as much as 24 percent according to stroke.org. Many activities count toward exercise including walking, swimming, dancing, gardening and house cleaning. For those new to exercise, check with a doctor first and work on making a manageable exercise plan.

Go for the Rainbow

Experts recommend eating as many as eight servings of produce daily in every color of the rainbow to receive enough of the beneficial vitamins and nutrients for stroke risk reduction. Easy ways to increase your fruit and vegetable intake include:

  • Drinking a glass of vegetable juice.
Pre-cutting vegetables and fruits for easy snacking and cooking.
Using herbs and spices (not salt) on vegetables for added flavor.
Adding grated vegetables to enrich soups, meat patties, casseroles and sauces.

Eat Healthier: Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods can actually reduce one’s risk of stroke significantly. People who averaged eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day are significantly less likely to have a stroke. Although eight servings a day sounds like a lot, even five can have an impact. Try citrus fruits and vegetables high in folic acid, fiber and potassium, such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower. In addition to eating more produce, cut back on sodium (salt) and saturated as well as hydrogenated fats. It is also important to be aware of food content, even in restaurants—to know the amounts of sodium and fats in each serving.

Consume Alcohol Wisely: While studies have shown that one alcoholic beverage daily may lower stroke risk, drinking more than two per day can increase stroke risk. If you drink, do so moderately and remember that it can negatively interact with other drugs you might be taking. If you drink too much, cut back. If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start.

Medical Issues

Be sure to visit your doctor regularly so he or she can detect any silent factors that might lead to a stroke. Medical issues such as the ones listed below can be controlled through medication, surgery and lifestyle changes. If you already are addressing these issues, you’re already lowering your stroke risk. Discuss any side effects you’re experiencing from your medication with your doctor. Medical conditions that greatly increase the risk of stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Carotid artery disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Atherosclerosis


Pam Peters is Principal Writer and Founder of Words Abound.

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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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