As we prepare for summertime activities, we typically are focused on achieving a strong, fit and healthy body. In honor of National Stroke Awareness Month this month, elevate your body’s fitness to new levels by focusing on the importance of maintaining a brain healthy lifestyle, while understanding the risk levels and signs of a stroke.
According to the American Stroke Association (ASA), a stroke is a “brain attack,” as opposed to the most commonly known “heart attack,” that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When this happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it starts to die. While heredity can play a big part in the risk factors associated with stroke, lifestyle choices and patterns can be leading contributors to reducing the risk of this life threatening disease.1
Three Important Factors to Lowering Stroke Risk
- High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor. According to industry research, there is a 55 percent increase in your stroke risk if you have prehypertension, which is blood pressure levels of 120 to 139 or 80-89 diastolic.2 Living a healthy lifestyle that can help to lower blood pressure levels includes exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol intake, avoiding tobacco, reducing caffeine consumption, reducing stress, reaching out to family/friends for ongoing support, and visiting your doctor regularly.3
- Healthy Diet: The way you feed your body not only contributes greatly to your body’s overall health and fitness, but also works to lower your risk of heart and brain disease. Research suggests that low fat, low cholesterol diets that include dark vegetables and fruits, which contain antioxidants, may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. In general, dark-skinned fruits and vegetables (kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets, red bell pepper, onion, corn and eggplant, prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries) have the highest levels of naturally occurring antioxidant levels. Cold water fish contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids (halibut, mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna) and some nuts (almonds, pecans and walnuts) are a good source of vitamin E antioxidants.4
- Physically Fit Lifestyle: Constant, regular physical activity is the cornerstone to a fit body, healthy heart and strong brain. Physical activity 3-4 times a week in 45-60 minute increments is important for maintaining good blood flow throughout the body and to the brain, encouraging the growth of new brain cells, and significantly lowering the risk of heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. The personal trainers at Fitness Together can help you put an individual or small group workout plan in action to help you elevate your health and fitness goals, while reducing your risk of brain and heart disease.
Know the Risks to Act FAST
The ASA reports that the chance of having a stroke approximately doubles for each decade of life after 55; however, the risk of stroke can affect anyone at any age. It is essential to know the signs of stroke so that you can act quickly if you or a loved one is showing any of the following signs. Time is of the essence when it comes to strokes.
The ASA has released a new stroke detection method called FAST, which stands for the four items to check in a suspected stroke victim – Face, Arms, Speech, and Time. Specific stroke warning signs include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body. Ask them to smile and raise an arm. If the face droops or looks crooked and/or if a raised arm droops down, then these are signs of a stroke.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding. Ask them to repeat a simple sentence like, “The sky is blue.” If they slur their speech or sound different, then this could be a sign of stroke.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes. Ask them to read a sign a short distance away with each eye. If they have difficulty making out words or letters that they normally can see, this could be a sign of stroke.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
By living a lifestyle that includes healthy food, fitness and awareness, you are equipping yourself with the tools to reduce the risk of disease and prepare yourself for identifying the signs of stroke for yourself and your family.
1 American Stroke Association
3 Mayo Clinic
4 Alzheimer's Association