A stroke can occur without any warning – that’s the bad news. The good news, however, is that there are specific actions that you can take right now to dramatically reduce your risk of stroke.
Here is a list of 7 simple lifestyle changes that can help protect your health and longevity:
1. Shake the Salt Sparingly
Salt is a silent killer. That might sound heavy, but excess sodium in the diet is linked to higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease through high blood pressure. As you can see, excess sodium is not to be taken lightly – it should be consumed lightly! The most common sources of salt in the American diet is fast food and restaurant food, so try to avoid these places if you’re at risk of high blood pressure.
However, some surprising high-sodium foods we found are cereals, canned vegetables, bread, and even coffee drinks! If this came as a shock to you, it’s best to pay attention to food labels on everything. Better yet, a surefire way to control sodium levels is to cook your meals yourself. Not only will you be adding years to your life, but you’ll also get to add a new skill to your resume.
2. Avoid High Cholesterol Foods
We all know that too much cholesterol is bad, but what many people don’t know is that your body already produces all the cholesterol it needs. When you consume lots of high cholesterol foods, plaque begins to build up in your arteries. This creates thick, narrow passageways that restrict blood flow and increase your risk of stroke or heart attack.
Reducing your consumption of high-cholesterol foods like butter, bacon, red meat, and cheese will help keep your arteries clear. Also, increasing consumption of high-fiber foods like oatmeal, apples, pears, and beans will help reduce LDL cholesterol.
3. Trash Trans Fats
Consumption of trans fats increases your LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreases your HDL (good cholesterol). It’s a lose-lose situation that can be overcome by removing fried foods, fast foods, and store-bought baked goods. These are the most abundant sources of trans fats found in the Standard American Diet.
Cutting out fast food is often much easier said than done, especially when you don’t have time to cook. Try preparing some grab-and-go snacks for yourself on the weekend that will last throughout the week. Some simple ideas are almonds, hummus with carrots, and puffed rice crackers.
4. Skip the Smoked Meats
Due to salt brines, salt-curing, and rubs that go into making smoked meats, the sodium content is usually very high which increases your risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Smoked meats also contain nitrates which belong to a family of carcinogens, or cancer causing substances. Sounds scary, right? It gets worse – smoked meats increase your risk of stomach infections, like E.coli, and stomach cancer. So do your body some good and skip the smoked meat platter at the next family reunion.
5. Ante Up Those Fruits and Veggies
Alright we’re done scaring you. Let’s get to the good stuff, like how fruits and vegetables can help protect against stroke by lowering blood pressure and improving microvascular function (the flow of fluids from blood vessels to body tissues). Some examples that are especially helpful are citrus fruits, apples, pears, and leafy greens. The fiber, potassium, folate, and antioxidants found in fruits and veggies have been linked with a reduced risk of stroke. Plus, they taste good!
6. Get Moving, Get Sweating!
Exercising enough to break a sweat a few times a week can reduce your risk of stroke by 20%, according to Medscape Medical News. Exercise directly reduces your risk of stroke by improving the health of your blood vessels and reducing your risk of other factors that can lead to stroke, like high blood pressure and obesity.
Still not convinced? Well, exercise has other beneficial side-effects, like reducing depression by triggering the release of endorphins. These chemicals are what cause the ‘runner’s high’ and lead to an energized outlook on life – making it even easier to stop eating those salty, stroke-inducing foods.
7. Show Some Skin
Exposing your skin to the sun for just 10 minutes during the middle of the day is enough to get your daily dose of vitamin D. Arterial stiffness, a major risk factor of stroke, is linked with Vitamin D deficiency. So get healthier while getting a healthy glow; just be sure to prevent burning by limiting unprotected exposure to the sun.
That’s it! These 7 simple lifestyle changes can significantly decrease your risk of stroke and improve your health and longevity. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but taking small steps every day (say, 1 step each day for a week) can help you create healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Now that you know how to prevent a stroke, what actions will you take first?