The risk of having a stroke increases significantly with age. However, there is a lot that seniors can do to help reduce their risk on an individual basis. In fact, says the National Stroke Association, studies show that 80% of strokes can be prevented. Here are some practical steps seniors can take to lessen their chances of experiencing a stroke.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is the number one risk factor for strokes, according to the Harvard Health Publications/Harvard Medical School. Most strokes are caused by blood clots, and smoking increases the risk of blood clots in several ways, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. Among other things, smoking causes your blood to become stickier, promotes the buildup of plaque in your arteries and reduces the level of HDL (good cholesterol) in your blood, which is needed to offset LDL, the harmful form of cholesterol. Even worse, smoking intensifies most of the other stroke risk factors.
- Minimize your exposure to second-hand smoke. Inhaling second-hand smoke also poses a significant danger, the CDC points out, estimating that it increases the risk of stroke by 20 to 30 percent.
- Exercise more. This doesn’t necessarily mean joining a gym or jogging every morning. It does mean walking instead of driving whenever possible, and finding activities that you enjoy that keep you off the couch and away from the TV screen. If you have a disability that tends to inhibit physical activity, discuss with your doctor or a physical therapist the types of activities that will safely help you be less sedentary.
- Make your diet healthier. Eliminate foods that are high in saturated fats, sugar and salt. Instead emphasize vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, whole grains, seeds and beans. Unless you are allergic to nuts, include them in your meals because they are rich in beneficial unsaturated fats. Of special importance is to keep your diet low in salt because an abundance of salt can exacerbate high blood pressure, which is a high-risk factor for stroke.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Although studies have shown that light or moderate drinking can have beneficial effects on the heart, there is strong evidence that heavy drinking is a potent risk factor for stroke. Data published by the National Institutes of Health, for example, show that excessive alcohol consumption not only can stimulate blood clots, but also may lead to a stroke by causing blood vessels in the brain to hemorrhage.
Although lifestyle changes such as those discussed above can help reduce your risk of a stroke, many seniors have underlying medical conditions that increase their susceptibility to a stroke. These conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. For these individuals, it’s even more important to know the lifestyle choices associated with a higher risk of having a stroke, and address them as best you can.
Always remember that the majority of strokes can be avoided by making healthy changes to your everyday habits. Make it a top priority; it is hard to imagine a more worthwhile endeavor.