5 ways to reduce your risk of stroke (and heart attack!)
If you're at risk or have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD), you've been told you have a greater risk for a heart attack. But did you know you're also at greater risk for other vascular diseases such as stroke? The accumulation of plaque in your heart arteries that restricts blood flow can occur elsewhere in your body, too. Plaque in your carotid artery, for example, can lead to stroke.
So if you have risk factors such as obesity, smoking, high alcohol use, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, talk with your primary care provider about screening for heart and vascular disease. Meanwhile, here are five steps to lower your risk for stroke and heart disease:
- Lower your blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can more than double your risk for stroke and heart disease. Get your blood pressure checked regularly. If yours is high and your doctor prescribes medicine, take it even if you feel fine. Lifestyle changes can also help lower blood pressure, such as reducing sodium (salt) in your diet, quitting smoking, reducing stress, exercising more and managing your weight.
- Control your cholesterol. Blood cholesterol clogs arteries which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. If your total cholesterol is more than 200, you can take steps to lower it with lifestyle changes but that may not be enough to get to a healthy level. When that occurs, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication.
- Limit alcohol use. Some studies show that moderate consumption of alcohol (one drink a day) can lower your stroke risk. But if you drink more than that, your risk goes up quickly. If you drink, do so only in moderation.
- Stop smoking. Smoking increases your risk of stroke and heart attack. Not only does it damage blood vessels and clog arteries, but it also raises blood pressure and puts extra strain on the heart.
- Lose weight. Being overweight is hard on your heart, blood vessels and arteries. Losing just 5-10 percent of your weight can lower your stroke and heart disease risk. Help control your weight by eating healthy and exercising. Aim to exercise five times a week for 30 minutes. If you can't fit a 30-minute workout in, even small bouts of extra activity add up during the day.