Stroke is often thought of as something that happens to older people, but more people under 50 are having strokes due to increased risky behaviours, such as smoking and untreated high blood pressure. Strokes don’t discriminate, according to the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary health organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular disease and stroke. They can happen to anyone, at any age. About 1 in 4 people worldwide will have a stroke in their lifetime. However, up to 80% of first strokes may be prevented.
“Healthy habits can protect and improve brain function and lower your stroke risk,” according to Dr. Lee Schwamm, MD, American Stroke Association volunteer chairman and executive vice chairman, department of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital. In recognition of World Stroke Day on Oct. 29, the American Stroke Association offers these five tips to help reduce your risk of stroke and maintain mental sharpness as you age:
- Keep blood pressure in mind and under control. High blood pressure is the No. 1 controllable risk factor for stroke. Work with your DOCTOR to manage your blood pressure and get it into a healthy range (under 120 over 80).
- Eat colourful fruits and veggies. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure over time, which may help reduce your stroke risk. Some fruits and vegetables, such as mangos, avocados and blueberries, are especially rich in vitamins and minerals that improve brain function and heart health.
- Rest up. Getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night can improve brain function both today and long-term. A soothing bedtime routine and avoiding screen time before bed can increase the quality of sleep you’re able to get. Sleep-related breathing issues may also increase stroke risk, so seek treatment right away if you suspect sleep apnea or similar problems.
- Emerging science shows practicing mindfulness and being aware of your breathing may reduce blood pressure. A quick way to be mindful anytime is to pause, notice your breath and observe details in your surroundings.
- Take a hike. Getting active activates brain cells, encouraging them to grow and connect more efficiently. Aerobic exercise, like going for a walk, also gives your arteries a workout and makes your brain more resilient to reductions in blood flow that can cause strokes.
To maximize health benefits, the American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (or a combination) and two days per week of moderate- to high-intensity muscle strengthening activity.
“These simple suggestions are great for everyone to follow, even if you don’t think you’re likely to have a stroke,” Schwamm said. “While many adults don’t think they are at risk for stroke or reduced brain function, the reality is that nearly half of all adults in America (for instance) have high blood pressure, and untreated high blood pressure is one of the most common causes of stroke and also causes up to 60% of dementia (a mental disorder).”