Boost your odds for living stroke-free

By the time you finish reading this article, someone in the U.S. will have had a stroke. If it doesn’t kill the person, it may leave him or her with severe disabilities, such as paralysis, blindness, speech difficulties, memory loss and even an altered personality. Depending on the side of the brain affected and the length of time that passes without medical intervention, a stroke can rob a person of independence and freedom. Acting quickly at the onset of a stroke is crucial to saving a life – possibly even your own. Better yet, acting now to reduce your risk may help you avoid a stroke altogether.

Think you’re too young to have a stroke? One-quarter of strokes happen to men and women younger than 65. And if you still think you’re not at risk because you have no family history of stroke, you may be surprised to learn that the biggest risk factor for stroke is inactivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. Coming in a close second is obesity, and third – high blood pressure.

If you live a largely sedentary life, are overweight and have high blood pressure, it’s time to take action. Here are a few simple things you can do to improve your odds of living stroke-free:

Exercise. Being active reduces the risk of stroke as well as heart disease. One study showed that women between age 40 and 65 who exercised regularly cut their stroke risk in half. You needn’t get fancier than walking – moderately or briskly – to achieve the desired results. Added benefits of exercise include weight loss, lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure – all of which can reduce your risk of stroke.

Quit smoking. If you’re still smoking, you know it’s not doing your health any favors. However, we want to impress upon you just how detrimental it is to your quality of life: if you smoke, you double your risk of suffering a stroke. And if you are a woman who takes oral contraceptives and smokes, you increase your risk even further. Even if you’re only half-thinking about quitting, we encourage you to take advantage of the smoking cessation resources available to you as a Providence Health Plan member. What have you got to lose?

Ditch the salt. Nine out of 10 of us consume too much salt daily, according to the CDC. There is a strong connection between high sodium diets and high blood pressure, one of the top three risk factors for stroke. How do you decrease your salt intake? For starters, avoid processed and packaged foods that often contain added salt. Instead, introduce more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Here is a short list of salt-laden foods to cut back on, or avoid altogether, if you’re watching your sodium:

  • Bread and rolls
  • Cold cuts and cured meats
  • Pizza
  • Canned soups and vegetables
  • Cheese
  • Frozen dinners
  • Boxed cereals
  • Jarred pasta sauce

For help managing your high blood pressure or quitting smoking, contact Providence Care Management for information, resources and support – via email at caremanagement@providence.org or toll-free at 800-662-1121.

To learn more about stroke – including an easy way to remember the warning signs of stroke – visit www.providenceFAST.org.