Every 40 seconds, someone has one. Every four minutes, someone dies from one.
Strokes. And as we age, the risk rises. My own Dad died at 65 of his second stroke. It made me pay attention to prevention. Who wants what is essentially a heart attack in the brain? I can’t afford to lose 2 million brain cells a minute, which is what a stroke can do to you.
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and silent strokes, that cause no loss of function, probably lead to dementia.
I know I can’t change my family history or my age. What I can keep control over is my lifestyle. As I round the bend toward 65, I know the need for vigilance to prevent stroke in myself. I don’t want to have a “small stroke” or transient ischemic attack (TIA) sneak up on me. So here’s my personal prevention plan. I used a published table to calculate my own risk of having a stroke in the next 10 years. It’s 2%. So far, so good!
So, here’s the deal to avert a real danger.
My Personal Stroke Prevention Plan
1. Blood pressure maintenance.
I seem to be among the lucky ones who do not have a tendency to high blood pressure at a young age. However, why mess with good genes by screwing up what you do and what you eat? Even with a tendency to higher blood pressure, you still have control over a lot of what happens. I don’t add much salt to anything. My one exception is hard boiled eggs. I use a little. And of course, I exercise just about every day. We’re not talking a slow stroll here. I sweat. I jog. I ride a bike. I swim. I have dumbbells at home and I lift them on the days I don’t do the other stuff. Just pick something and do it. Yes, every day or almost every day. And a stroll is better than sitting your couch.
2. Weight maintenance.
I am a small sized person (5 ft., 1.5 in.) and I can’t afford extra pounds. They show big time on me. Clothes get that depressing, too tight feeling I hate with even 10 pounds extra. And weight comes off very slowly at this age. I tried a lot of things and the scale barely moved. I then kicked into high gear with a much more vigorous exercise program I started at age 63. I began very, very slowly. I got with a group. I now do short triathlons and short distance jogs with other people. It’s hard. It’s tiring. I do it anyway. Must say, the endorphins are addicting. And dropping a jeans size at age 64 feels pretty good too. The greatest freedom is never having to ask, “do these pants make me look fat?”
3. Healthy food and portion control.
Everyone knows you are supposed to eat a lot of fruits and veggies and cut down on red meat. So, that’s what I do. I eat everything, but little amounts. I make a protein shake or eat eggs every morning. When we go out to eat, I usually choose fish. I eat salads a lot. I keep fresh veggies in the fridge and eat them and fruit every day. I like chicken and turkey and keep that on hand all the time. Steak once in a while is fine. Same for those barbecued ribs I love. I get the half rack or split the dinner with my hubby. I’m happy to say, he’s willing to go along with all this. I have dessert now and then and try to always split that with someone or eat the smallest one there is. If I didn’t exercise, I probably would have to do without even that. The weight is stable with what I’m doing now. I refuse to be hungry for any length of time. I eat protein bars, an apple or a few nuts between meals. (Dr. Oz would love this plan. I think he’s great.)
Of course, there’s much more to preventing stroke than what I’m doing. Quit smoking, limit how much alcohol you drink, and manage your stress. There are lots of parts to this.
And if you or someone you love has any signs whatsoever of a stroke, call an ambulance immediately. You only have about three hours to get to the emergency room, go through the admission process and get evaluated before the doctors can figure out if you are a candidate for the clot busting drug that could save you from devastating disability. That’s not much time. The drug won’t do you any good if you are too late and miss this critical time window.
Take these 5 warning signs of stroke seriously and avoid being in denial if they happen to you.
- Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of your face, or your arm or leg.
- Sudden trouble with speaking, understanding or a feeling of confusion.
- Sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes (This was my Dad’s only symptom of his first stroke).
- Sudden trouble walking, loss of balance, dizziness or loss of coordination.
- Sudden headache without any known cause.
Perhaps what motivates me is the desire to do better and live longer than my father did. He smoked, drank a lot and ate too much fat for a long time. He did not exercise as he began to age. I’m going about aging in a very different way, and I hope this will encourage you to do so as well. I want us all to enjoy a longer healthspan than the generation before us.
Until next time,
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.