May is Stroke Awareness Month and that makes it worth bringing up the staggering statistics surrounding it. Heart disease and stroke account for the vast majority of deaths every year in the United States.
No matter how you break down the numbers, they’re attention-grabbing:
- 1 of every 20 deaths is from stroke.
- It kills 130,000 Americans every year. That’s the No. 5 cause of death in America.
- The cost of strokes in the U.S. is $34 billion per year – that includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat stroke and missed days of work.
Even if you survive a stroke, it can be dramatically life-altering: stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability.
Strokes can occur at any age – 34 percent of people hospitalized for stroke in 2009 were younger than 65 years, according to the CDC, and the highest stroke death rates in the country are in the southeast U.S.: TX, LA, MS, AL, GA, SN, NC, TN, KY, AK, WV, and IN.
It pays to know the warning signs of stroke so you can act fast when it happens, but it’s equally important to be proactive now and lower your risk of stroke.
Many stroke factors can’t be controlled – family, race, gender, age or whether you’ve had a previous heart attack – but here are five controllable factors and steps you can take to lower your risk of stroke:
Cut salt from your diet: Too much salt means higher blood pressure, and this means higher risk of stroke. Try roasting your fruits and vegetables, or using citrus fruits like lemons and limes to enhance the flavor of your food next time you reach for the salt shaker.
Moderate your alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol heavily will increase your blood pressure, and your risk of suffering a stroke. In general, it’s best to cap your alcohol drinking at one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
Exercise regularly: If you’re not exercising now, gradually work your way up to 30 minutes of activity every day of the week. Whether it’s walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling, this will help you maintain a healthy weight, lower your cholesterol and lower your blood pressure. Can’t spare 30 minutes per day? Consider breaking it up into 10-minute chunks. All physical activity counts.
No smoking: By now, smokers will have plenty of incentive to stop smoking, but here’s one more: quitting smoking will lower your risk of stroke. Period. This is one of the most significant controllable stroke risk factors.
Manage diabetes: Diabetes increases stroke risk; in fact, you’re four times more likely to suffer a stroke if you have diabetes. Work with your doctor to manage diabetes with weight loss plans, diet changes, exercise, medications and insulin shots.
By following these tips, you’ll lower your risk of a future stroke. The American Stroke Association compiled a list of additional stroke risk factors here.