Your Greatest Tool in Preventing Strokes

Strokes, accounts for the third amount of deaths in our country. A total of 140,000 people die each year in America while 795,000 fall victim and live with the consequences each day after surviving. Often referred to as a brain attack, a stroke occurs when a blockage occurs, preventing blood flow to a certain part of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain burst. Regardless, parts of a person’s brain become damaged and often times can die completely. While the brain only makes up of around 2% of our bodies, it uses 20% of our bodies oxygen supply through oxygen rich blood delivered by our body’s arteries. After blood flow is blocked, brain cells begin to die immediately due to the lack of oxygen present in our brains. 

Currently there are two types of strokes we can suffer from. The more common ischemic stroke is when blood clots or other particles block the blood vessels to the brain. Fatty plaque deposits can also contribute and cause blockages by building up in our blood streams. The second type, hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel burst in the brain. Blood will then build up and damage surrounding brain tissue, which often results in severe brain damage.

Strokes can lead to long lasting brain damage, severe disabilities and death. The CDC states that 1 out of every 20 deaths in America is caused by a stroke, taking the lives of 140,000 people each year. This means that nearly every 40 seconds someone in our country suffers from a stroke and that every 4 minutes of these brain attacks are fatal.  While suffering from a stroke does not always result in death, these attacks are America’s number one cause of serious long lasting disabilities. Due to the serious brain damage that often occurs, stroke significantly reduces mobility in more than half of survivors over the age of 65. While our risk for stroke increases with age, in 2009 34% of people hospitalized for stroke were less than 65 years old. 

There are several leading causes that can result in stroke. High blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking and obesity are the four main contributors resulting in stroke. Harvard health reports that a healthy diet and exercise of at least 30 minutes a day or more if possible are simple ways to reduce stroke risk by lowering blood pressure. They also report that a healthy BMI of 25 or less will contribute to lower risk levels. While exercise can help lower our blood pressure and help us loose extra weight, it also serves as an independent stroke reducer as well. Moderate intensity workouts at least 5 times a week also greatly reduce our risk for stroke according the Harvard study. To further back this up, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, conducted a study on the relationship between strokes and an active lifestyle. Over the coarse of 5.7 years 33% of participants were classified as inactive, meaning no workouts per week. These participants showed a 20% increase in risk of stroke versus those who reported they exercised. The doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham seemed to agree with the staff at Harvard, saying, “The protective effect of intense physical activity may be through its impact on traditional risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes”.  Another study conducted by Dr. Virginia J. Howard and Dr. Michelle N. McDonnell published by the American Heart Association Journal, titled “Physical Activity in Primary Stroke Prevention Just Do It!” again touches upon the benefits of stroke prevention and exercise. The report starts out “”stroke is a preventable disease” and goes into the importance of physical activity. Howard and McDonnell found that adult woman who live a healthy lifestyle, incorporating a balanced diet and minimal alcohol consumption and paired this with normal physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day resulted in a 80% lower risk in woman and 70% lower risk in there male counterparts. In conclusion, exercise along with a healthy diet and lifestyle has a significant impact on a persons risk for stroke. Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure is a major component in stroke prevention and can be traced back to most other major contributors such as obesity and excessive drinking. Exercise paired with a healthy lifestyle and diet is our greatest tool to prevent high blood pressure and thus gives us our best chance at preventing a stroke and succumbing to its many downfalls.