The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that an average of 795,000 people each year in the United States suffer a stroke. The majority of these are new strokes. Knowing whether you have a high risk of suffering a stroke is important, but so is knowing what you can do to lower your risk.
Understanding Strokes: What They Are and What Causes Them
You can think of a stroke as the equivalent of a heart attack on your brain. It is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a part of your brain doesn’t receive an adequate amount of blood. Strokes usually occur from experiencing bleeding in the brain or a blocked artery.
There are two main types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. Ischemic strokes happen when cells don’t get enough blood and therefore don’t get enough oxygen. An ischemic stroke occurs if something blocks blood vessels in the brain. Blood clots can lead to ischemic strokes.
Hemorrhagic strokes lead to bleeding in or around your brain. It can occur if a blood vessel in your brain breaks open and causes bleeding that puts pressure on your brain tissue. It can also happen if you experience bleeding in the space between the brain and its outer covering.
The symptoms of a stroke vary depending on which areas of the brain it affects. You can experience one or more symptoms like:
- Difficulty speaking
- Blurred or double vision
- One-sided weakness
- Loss of muscle control on one side of the face
- Loss of coordination
- Slurred speaking
- Partial or total loss of one of the senses
- Memory loss
The cause of the stroke can depend on the stroke type. Ischemic strokes usually occur because of blood clots, while hemorrhagic strokes happen as a result of high blood pressure, brain cancers, brain aneurysms, and more.
Some factors can put you more at risk of suffering a stroke. These are:
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
Strokes have the potential to occur at any age, but the risk rises as you grow older. If there’s a history of strokes in your family, you’re also more likely to suffer from one yourself. Drinking too much alcohol is another way to increase your chances of a stroke.
How Exercise Helps to Prevent Strokes
Exercise plays a role in reducing several stroke risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and even stress. For primary stroke prevention, high blood pressure is the most important risk factor. Physical activity helps control blood pressure because it improves vascular function.
Type 2 diabetes increases the chances of having a stroke because excessive blood glucose levels over time increase fatty deposits. These deposits narrow or block blood vessels, cutting off blood to the brain. Exercise helps improve glycemic control, so it can be an important way of managing your type 2 diabetes.
Exercise also helps promote lower cholesterol levels. Having high cholesterol levels causes plaque buildup in your arteries, including those that send blood to your brain.
For older people or those with certain medical conditions, turning to light exercise may be beneficial. Some options include gardening, taking walks, and even doing housework. The key is to avoid being inactive for long periods.
For adults who can manage moderate exercise, it’s important to engage in at least 2 ½ hours of exercise per week. You can choose activities like cycling, brisk walking, swimming, or anything else that gets your heart rate up.
Other Lifestyle Changes for Stroke Prevention
Besides adding more physical exercise to your life, you can also turn to other strategies to help prevent a stroke. For one thing, if you smoke, you should quit. Smoking significantly damages blood vessels, triggering plaque formation and even causing blood vessel breakdown. Smoking increases your blood pressure, too.
You should take a close look at your diet. Eating a diet that causes higher cholesterol levels can contribute to the development of plaque. Plaque narrows arteries and makes blood clots more likely.
Stick to lean proteins, unsaturated fats, fruits, and vegetables, and avoid sugary foods and saturated fats. You should also add fiber-rich foods to your diet. It is also important to cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink. Alcohol increases your blood pressure, making blood clots more likely to happen. Blood clots can cut off your blood supply and lead to strokes.
Another important step you can take if you want to prevent a stroke is to incorporate stress management techniques into your day. Stress makes the heart work harder, which increases blood pressure.
At the same time, sugar and fat levels in the blood also increase when you experience stress. They impact arterial health as well. All these factors may lead to the development of clots. Finding ways of managing stress goes a long way toward addressing these issues.
You can opt for doing deep breathing exercises, as well as focusing on mindfulness strategies to help you stay in the present. Some people benefit from meditation or yoga, while others do better if they take time to exercise. Taking up relaxing hobbies is another excellent option.
Regenerative Medicine: Can It Help with Strokes?
Working to prevent strokes is important, and your strategies for doing so can be as simple as adjusting your diet and adding exercise to your daily routine. If you’ve already experienced a stroke, however, you can also use these strategies to prevent future ones. Lowering your blood pressure, managing your diabetes, and lowering stress levels can all help.
If a previous stroke has left you with symptoms that affect your life, a treatment option that shows promise is stem cell therapy. Stem cell therapy encourages your body to heal using its natural processes, allowing you the chance to regain some of your brain’s lost function. Ask your doctor about regenerative medicine options like stem cell therapy.