Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of brain damage and long-term disability. While stroke can occur at any age, our risk of stroke increases as we grow older. The good news is that there are controllable lifestyle risk factors that can significantly reduce the risk of stroke. In addition to seeing a doctor regularly, here are a few lifestyle changes to make that may decrease your possibility of experiencing a stroke:
Most of us know that physical activity is a key part of living a healthy lifestyle, but did you know it can also reduce your stroke risk? Regular physical activity helps us improve heart health and maintain a healthy body weight while lowering blood pressure and raising “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels, all of which contribute to a lowered risk of stroke. For those who have already had a stroke, staying physically active is an important strategy to prevent another one.
In general, experts recommend that adults over the age of 65 do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week such as walking, jogging, or swimming, in addition to muscle-strengthening activities. Most retirement communities feature fitness centers and group exercise classes that make it easy and fun for older adults to participate in daily physical activity. As always, talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Choose healthy foods
Healthy eating can prevent a variety of diseases and health risks, including stroke. Eating a well-balanced diet of foods low in saturated fats, sugar, and sodium can help you manage weight, control blood pressure, and improve your cholesterol. Along with eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, some heart-healthy foods to incorporate into your diet include lean meats, nuts and seeds, fish, beans, and whole grains. Healthy eating also plays a critical role in stroke recovery. Ask your doctor about making a nutrition plan for stroke prevention.
Tobacco and alcohol use
Smoking doubles your chances of experiencing a stroke. If you smoke, quitting now will lower your risk for stroke. Quitting can be difficult; if you’re ready to stop smoking, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking aids or programs that might be helpful to you.
Drinking too much alcohol can also raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke. If you do drink, moderation is the key. The CDC recommends that women have no more than one drink per day, and men have no more than two drinks per day.
Stress is a commonly overlooked risk factor for stroke and heart disease. While some degree of stress is a natural part of life, chronic, long-term stress can have harmful effects on your mental and physical health. Too much stress can aggravate existing risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. Stress can also lead to unhealthy behaviors such as unhealthy eating, reduced exercise, or smoking.
Reducing stress is often easier said than done. Because everyone experiences stress differently, it’s important to recognize the signs and sources of your stress and take steps to reduce it. Some common ways to combat stress include deep breathing techniques, meditation, exercising, hobbies, or spending quality time with family and friends.
Learn the signs of stroke
The signs of stroke come on quickly and without warning. Unfortunately, many people fail to recognize the signs of stroke in themselves or others. Acting fast can make a huge difference in the successful recovery of stroke patients. The National Stroke Association uses the acronym FAST to make the signs of stroke easy to remember:
F – Face: Do you notice one side of the person’s face drooping, or do they have an uneven smile? This could be a stroke warning sign.
A – Arms: Do they have arm weakness or numbness? If they lift both arms, does one arm drift back down?
S – Speech: Is their speech slurred, or abnormal? Speech difficulty is a common sign of stroke.
T – Time: If you see any of the above signs in yourself or another person, act fast: call 911 right away.
After a stroke
If you or a senior loved one have experienced a stroke, consider the benefit of rehabilitation care to help return to the highest level of functionality possible. Some continuing-care retirement communities, like Bethany Village, have in-patient rehab centers located within the community to provide care and therapy in a comfortable, peaceful environment. In addition to physical and occupational therapy, senior rehab centers also provide nutrition advice and opportunities for social engagement, all of which can help speed up recovery and help stroke patients transition home sooner.
A short-term stay in a rehabilitation care facility can also give older adults a sense of what life is like in a retirement community. After getting a better feel for the community, some seniors may feel more comfortable with the idea of moving to a continuing-care retirement community as part of their long-term health care plan.