According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke. Every four minutes, someone dies from a stroke.
Strokes strike swiftly and can be deadly. But there are steps you can take to lower your risk and prevent one from occurring. In fact, the CDC says up to 80 percent of strokes could be prevented with healthy lifestyle changes.
Preventing one from happening starts with understanding your risk factors, which fall into two categories: non-modifiable and modifiable. Non-modifiable risk factors are things you can’t change:
- Age – Being 65 years of age and older increases your risk for stroke. But it can happen at any age. According to the CDC, 34 percent of the people hospitalized for stroke are younger than age 65.
- Female gender – Many people mistakenly believe women don’t have strokes. In fact, women are actually more likely to suffer a stroke.
- Family history – If strokes run in your family, this may increase your risk of having a stroke.
Modifiable risk factors are things you can change, including:
- High blood pressure – Watching your blood pressure and keeping it under control are two of the best steps you can take to lower your risk for stroke. Aim to keep it around 120/80.
- High cholesterol – Large amounts of cholesterol in your blood can lead to blood clots. Lifestyle changes, such as eating heart-healthy foods, getting enough exercise, quitting smoking and keeping alcohol consumption in moderation, can help you lower your cholesterol.
- Diabetes – Getting diabetes under control can help lower your risk of having a stroke. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It’s important to also address these risk factors to further lower your risk.
- Diet – The Mediterranean Diet is recommended for stroke prevention. This diet focuses on vegetables and fruit, fish, legumes and healthy oils.
- Smoking – Nicotine can cause damage to your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk for stroke. If you currently smoke tobacco products, consider enrolling in a smoking cessation program.
- A sedentary lifestyle – Getting enough physical activity can help lower your risk for stroke as well as improve your overall health. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. This breaks down to 30 minutes, five days a week.
- Other medical conditions including heart disease, sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation – Your primary care provider can help you learn more about what medical conditions may increase your risk for stroke.
If you have one or more of these risk factors, talk to your primary care provider to learn about lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your risk for stroke.