Can stroke risk be reduced? Yes! There are a few simple measures that can keep you on the path of reduced stroke risk:
1. Consume healthy foods:
An unhealthy diet contributes to stroke by increasing blood pressure and cholesterol, and the risk of diabetes. It is important to have a diet that includes all the essential nutrient groups, is high in fibre and low in cholesterol and salt. In fact, a good guideline for a balanced diet is represented in the Ministry of Health’s “My Healthy Plate” (Fig 1) It is a campaign for an easy-to-adopt diet that says that our meals should be a combination of fruits and vegetables (1/2 the plate), whole-grains (1/4 the plate) and meat or other proteins (1/4 the plate).
You may wonder how consuming a diet as per these guidelines impacts our stroke risk. High blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes are amongst the most important risk factors that contribute to stroke incidence, and are greatly impacted by our diets:
I. Blood Pressure: High blood pressure damages our blood vessels, causing them to narrow due to clots, or rupture and leak – all possibly leading to a stroke. It is important to monitor your blood pressure regularly. This can be done with a blood pressure monitor available at any pharmacy. Normal blood pressure reads at 130/80 or below. 130 (mmHG) is the systolic pressure, the blood pressure in the arteries when the heart muscles contract. 80 (mmHg) indicates the diastolic pressure, the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between the beats. If medicating for blood pressure, record your blood pressure and note it down to share with your doctors for a more accurate diagnosis.
Dietary changes to reduce your blood pressure? – reduce your salt intake, caffeine and alcohol consumption.
II. Cholesterol: High cholesterol levels contribute to blood vessel disease, which often leads to stroke.
Cholesterol is a fat derived from diets high in saturated fats – fats from animal foods. Cholesterol, along with triglycerides contribute to fatty buildups in the walls of arteries, increasing the risk of stroke.
2. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, partaking in regular physical activity:
Our lifestyle greatly impacts the risk of having a stroke. Sedentary lifestyles increase stroke risk as they contribute to obesity along with increasing the probability of having high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, all significant risk factors of stroke, as seen earlier. As the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) says, only 150 minutes of physical activity a week is required to promote well-being and reduce the disease burden of several conditions, including stroke! Ideally, if you can have 30 consecutive minutes of exercise, if not, break it up into 10- to 15-minute sessions a few times each day to keep up your health.
3. Maintain your ideal body weight
An accumulation of excess fat is called obesity (a risk factor associated with stroke) and is associated with our body weight and body mass index (BMI). Your BMI is calculated by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in meters) squared. Asians have an ideal BMI range of 18.5 to 22.9. So, a bodyweight that maintains a BMI in this range can help reduce the risk of stroke. There are several mobile and online applications that allow you to track your body BMI, to monitor it over time and make sure that the values are within the healthy range. Digitally storing medical data, like BMI, allows for easy access to important information for doctors and can help to better predict the risk of diseases like stroke.
4. Avoid smoking
Quitting smoking can bring down the risk to the same as a nonsmoker within five years! Smoking nearly doubles your risk of having an ischemic stroke. Smoking can raise triglyceride levels, lower good cholesterol levels, increase the buildup of fats in the arterial vessel, cause the thickening and narrowing of the vessels. Quitting smoking positively impacts several of the risk factors that contribute to stroke.
5. Go for regular health screenings and always take your medication as instructed:
It is important to go for annual health screenings to monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels after the age of 40. This way, risk factors for conditions like strokes can be detected early and the condition can be potentially prevented. It is also important, if diagnosed and prescribed by a physician, to consume all the required medication, even if you feel fine. Controlling blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels will reduce the incidence of stroke.
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