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Staving off stroke

While diseases such as heart disease and breast cancer seem to get the bulk of attention nowadays, don’t forget about the third leading cause of death in this country and the No. 1 cause of disability: stroke.

Eighty percent of strokes are preventable simply by lowering risk factors, according to the National Stroke Association. And risk factors for stroke are often intertwined, so treating one of them can often positively affect another. For example, quitting smoking can bring down blood pressure. You can do a number of things to reduce your stroke risk:

  • Eat your fruits and veggies. Experts recommend five or more servings a day. You should also be getting at least six servings of grains a day, eating fish like albacore tuna and salmon twice a week and including fat-free dairy products, beans, lean meats and skinless poultry into your everyday diet. The name of the game is to limit foods high in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and calories, which, in turn, can lower your blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke.
  • Move, move, move. Lace up your shoes and hit the pavement for at least 30 minutes on most or all days. If you need to lose weight, increase that activity time to at least 60 minutes.
  • Lower your blood pressure. You’ll only know you have high blood pressure—140/90 mm Hg or higher—if you get it checked. A healthy diet that limits daily salt intake to 2,300 mg (about one teaspoon) or less and regular exercise can often bring down the numbers. If not, you may need medication.
  • Butt out. Nicotine and carbon monoxide damage your cardiovascular system, so talk with your healthcare provider today about quit-smoking aids such as patches and medications.
  • Control your diabetes. Having diabetes increases your stroke risk, but uncontrolled diabetes puts you at an even greater risk. Make sure to keep your blood sugar levels under control and visit regularly with your healthcare provider to stay on top of the disease.

Advancing age, a family history, being male, being of African-American descent and having had a prior stroke are all risk factors you can’t control. But by taking the measures listed above, you can help reduce your risks and help prevent yourself from becoming a statistic.