Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting approximately 795,000 people annually. Fortunately, around 90 percent of strokes can be prevented with simple diet and lifestyle changes. You can work with your patients to implement these changes and create a sustainable regimen to reduce stroke risk.
Quit Smoking and Reduce Drinking
Smoking increases stroke risk in a variety of ways, including:
- Raising triglycerides, resulting in an imbalanced blood lipid profile
- Making blood “sticky,” thereby increasing the likelihood of poor circulation and blood clots
- Narrowing blood vessels
- Triggering inflammation and oxidative stress
- Damaging blood vessel walls
Quitting removes these risks and gives the body a chance to heal. Patients should also be counseled to keep alcohol consumption low due to possible connections between excessive alcohol intake and stroke risk.
Increase Physical Activity
A regular exercise regimen incorporating a variety of training styles promotes a healthy weight, conditions the circulatory system and improves oxygen uptake. Encourage patients to find a mix of activities they enjoy, including strength training, cardio intervals, walking, playing sports and spending time outdoors. Engaging in these activities in place of “screen time” ensures patients stay active as they age, helping avoid the reduction in muscle mass associated with weight gain. A trainer can help patients with physical limitations find exercises and activities appropriate for their situations.
Eat Mostly (or All) Plants
Several nutrients found in whole plant foods may play a role in reducing stroke risk, but it’s likely your patients aren’t eating the recommended five or more servings per day. Increasing the intake of greens, beans, dates and concentrated tomato products boosts potassium levels, which has been associated with a significant reduction in stroke risk. Magnesium, found in abundance in leafy greens, is also beneficial.
The fiber contained in a diet centered on or consisting only of plant-based foods can reduce stroke risk as much as 7 percent for every seven additional grams consumed. Since fiber is only found in plant foods, encouraging patients to get their “five a day” is critical for stroke prevention.
Stress and stroke risk are closely connected due to the effects of stress on blood pressure and hormonal balance. High blood pressure can strain the small vessels in the brain, increasing the potential for damage. In patients already suffering from heart disease, this may trigger the rupture of arterial plaques or cause blood clots to break off and become lodged in narrowed openings.
High levels of cortisol produced by and sustained during chronic stress promote systemic inflammation, leading to problems with blood vessel dilation and increasing the likelihood of plaques forming in the blood vessels of the brain.
Balancing these four factors removes many of the potential risks for strokes and allows your patients to experience better quality of life at any age. Healthy bodies support healthy brains, so it’s important to make diet and lifestyle part of the conversation when discussing stroke risk and to incorporate beneficial changes into any treatment plan.