As we wrap up National Stroke Awareness Month, I’d like to take an opportunity to share some things that everyone should know about healthy living and strokes. Let’s start with the bad news. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of having a stroke. I don’t think that comes as a shock to anyone. Obesity is linked to high blood pressure, sleep apnea, higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, lower HDL (good cholesterol), diabetes, and chronic inflammation. All of these make you more likely to have a variety of health problems including a stroke.
Fortunately, there is also good news. You don’t have to lose huge amounts of weight to reduce your risk. Losing just 10% of your body weight can significantly improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and stroke risk. Small, sustainable changes to your eating habits and gradually increasing your activity can really add up over time.
Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate activity. That sounds like a lot, but break it down. 30 minutes, 5 days a week is doable for a lot of people. If it’s not quite reasonable for you, start with 10-minute chunks spread throughout your day. If you can’t do 10, start with 5 minutes and aim for 6 in a week or two.
Another huge modifier is smoking. At this point, I probably don’t have to tell you that smoking is damaging to health. However, if you’re reading this, chances are you’re interested in losing weight. It’s true that many people do gain a bit of weight right after they quit smoking. There are a lot of reasons for this, but even if you gain weight, you will still be healthier and have lower risk of stroke if you don’t smoke. Consider quitting.
Instead of stressing out over stroke prevention, think about small steps you can take to improve your health. Make little changes and then make a few more once those become habit. Over the next weeks, months and years you can build a healthier lifestyle for yourself that will not only reduce your risk of stroke but help you live a fuller, more energized life.