The American Stroke Association promotes the “Simple 7” as an easy way to decrease your risk of having a stroke. These are seven areas of life in which even basic changes will help lower your stroke risk.
It may seem overwhelming to think of all seven at once. Most people will do better if they implement one or two suggestions at a time, such as developing a routine for checking your blood pressure every day and recoding it on a calendar. After a few weeks, consider adding walking around the neighborhood three to four times a week. Gradually add in a new habit here and there. In a year, you will look back and be amazed at your progress.
- Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a symptomless “silent killer,” and it is the single most common risk factor for stroke. Over 50% of patients who experience a stroke have chronic high blood pressure. The excessive pressure damages blood vessels and leads to serious health problems.
- Take your blood pressure medicine as prescribed.
- Check your blood pressure with a machine at home or at kiosks in pharmacies and department stores.
- Keep a journal on your phone or in your wallet.
- Share the journal with your healthcare provider at your medical appointments.
- If you notice the numbers trending higher than usual, give your provider a call.
- Control your cholesterol. Cholesterol accumulates and causes dangerous narrowing in your blood vessels.
- Eat a diet low in fatty and fried foods.
- Take your cholesterol medication as prescribed.
- Have your cholesterol levels checked regularly.
- Be aware of your LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels.
- If you are diabetic, manage your blood sugars. People with diabetes are 2 – 3 times more likely to suffer a stroke.
- Eat a diet low in sugar.
- Take your diabetes medications as prescribed.
- Notify your healthcare provider if your blood sugar levels are outside the target range recommended by your physician.
- Decrease and stop smoking. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor meaning it causes the blood vessels to tighten up. Narrowing of the blood vessels increases blood pressure which leads to many health risks.
- Ask your healthcare provider what kind of support they can offer you in your journey to get healthy by quitting smoking. They may be able to prescribe medications, patches or gum to assist you through the withdrawal from nicotine.
- Replace the old habit with a new, healthier habit. Find an alternative to turn to when you are tempted to light up.
- Cravings typically last only a few minutes. Look for a way to distract yourself and push through the craving.
- Get active. Get moving to get your blood pumping, shed extra pounds and lower your blood pressure.
- Check with your healthcare provider to ask if you need to have any activity restrictions.
- Keep it simple – start with walking or exercising a little more than you usually do. Work up to five days per week. Add five minutes a week until you are at 40 minutes three to four times a week.
- Find an exercise buddy – a friend, neighbor, even a pet – to keep you accountable and to make it more fun.
- Lose weight. Excess weight creates extra stress on your heart and contributes to multiple health issues.
- Set reasonable and attainable short and long term weight loss goals.
- Celebrate small successes with non-food rewards.
- Eat healthier. Our bodies use what we eat to build and repair itself. If we only provide it with “junk” food, our bodies will suffer. Enjoy an occasional less-than-healthy treat along the way, but focus on providing healthy building blocks for your body.
- Eat a “Mediterranean diet” high in fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid “drinking your calories” in sugary drinks.
- Find a friend or join a group to share the journey – and recipes!
So, where are YOU going to start? Remember, keep it simple – just one small task at a time. If you have a little setback, just jump back on board and keep going! You got this!
Sharlyn Splean MSN, RN, SCRN