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Controllable Risk Factors – Obesity

How is obesity linked to stroke?
Obesity and excessive weight put a strain on the entire circulatory system. They also make people more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes – all of which can increase risk for stroke. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet, physical activity and other medical treatments with the help of a doctor is important for stroke prevention.

Physical activity
Physical activity can help reduce stroke risk. A recent study showed that people who exercise 5 or more times per week have a reduced stroke risk. Higher risk and burden of stroke have been observed within the Stroke Belt (southeastern states of the U.S.), a region that boasts higher obesity rates compared with elsewhere in the country. Following are tips for increasing daily physical activity: 

  • Include exercise in daily activities.
  • A brisk walk for as little as 30 minutes a day can improve daily health in many ways, including weight.
  • Try walking with a friend; this will make it easier to commit to.
  • If walking isn't ideal, find another exercise or activity, such as biking, swimming, golf, tennis, dance, or aerobics.
  • Make time each day to exercise. Some people enjoy walking in the morning instead of at night. Figure out what works for you.

Maintain a healthy diet
Maintaining a diet that is low in calories, saturated and trans fats and cholesterol helps manage both obesity and health cholesterol levels in the blood, which also reduces risk for stroke. High-salt diets often contribute to high blood pressure. A healthy diet should also include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and veggies
A recent Harvard University study concluded that eating five daily servings of fruits and vegetables can lower your stroke risk by 30 percent. Citrus fruits and vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower are particularly beneficial. Their higher concentrations of folic acid, fiber and potassium may be a key to reducing heart disease and stroke.

Most people eat only half of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. Increasing that daily intake can be easy. For example:


Drink a glass of orange or vegetable juice.
Buy pre-sliced vegetables or fruit for easy snacking or cooking.
For flavor, use a variety of herbs and spices on vegetables. Add basil or dill to green beans or tomatoes.
Add grated vegetables to casseroles, spaghetti sauces or meat patties.

Low-fat cooking
Eating and cooking in a low-fat manner (free of saturated and trans fats) reduces the waistline and decreases stroke and heart attack risk. Take a few extra minutes to think through food choices, and how they can be cooked. For instance, grilling a piece of chicken instead of frying it in oil reduces fat intake significantly and produces a tasty, healthy meal.

Add the following foods to a daily diet:
Fruits and vegetables
Lean meats such as chicken, turkey and fish
Lean cuts of beef (round or sirloin steak) or pork (pork chops, pork loin)
Low-fat dairy products (skim milk, 2% fat cottage cheese)
Egg substitutes or four egg yolks per week
Fiber, including whole grain breads, cereal products or dried beans

Watch homocysteine levels
Homocysteine, an amino acid or building block of protein, is produced naturally in the body. When needed, it is changed into other amino acids for the body’s use. Researchers recently found that too much homocysteine in the blood may increase a person’s chance of developing heart disease, stroke or other blood flow disorders.

Homocysteine levels are determined by two key factors genetics and lifestyle. Genetic factors affect how fast homocysteine is processed in your body. Lifestyle factors, such as diet, affect homocysteine levels in another manner. For example, people with a high homocysteine level may have a low level of vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid. Replacing these vitamins with supplements or fortified foods may help return levels to normal. Low thyroid hormone levels, kidney disease, psoriasis or some medications may also cause abnormally high homocysteine levels.

Folic acid
Folic acid is another part of the homocysteine puzzle. Most Americans, especially women, do not get enough folic acid form their diets. Eating more fruits and vegetables including lentils, chickpeas, asparagus, ready-to-eat cereals, fortified bread, pasta and rice, may increase folic acid levels and decrease health risks.

Vitamins B12 and B6
As a person’s body ages, the ability to absorb B12 is reduced. This may cause a variety of health problems including an increased risk for heart disease. Foods that contain vitamins B12 and B6 include fortified cereals, low-fat meat, fish, poultry, milk products, bananas, baked potatoes and watermelon. In some instances of vitamin B12 deficiency, vitamin injections may be necessary.

However, adjusting diet may not always be enough to lower homocysteine to a desirable level. Vitamin supplements may also be needed. Speak with a doctor before starting any vitamin regimen. Taking high doses of vitamins is not generally recommended. Re-checking homocysteine levels after taking vitamins is essential. If levels remain high, your doctor can modify treatment.


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