Eighty percent of strokes are preventable, yet stroke is the No. 5 cause of death in the U.S. and a leading contributor to disability. Are you doing all you can to avoid this crippling health event?

Strokes happen when the brain can’t get the oxygen it needs, so brain cells die. A blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain either gets blocked or bursts, and a stroke occurs.

Not every stroke is symptomatic. “Silent” strokes affect 1 in 5 adults over age 80. They occur without warning and often go unnoticed, but are responsible for short-term headaches, dizziness and cognitive problems. Silent strokes can also cause long-term problems with memory.

Stroke Prevention

The American Stroke Association and American Heart Association have teamed up on guidelines to dramatically cut your risk for all kinds of stroke. Considering that stroke recovery can take months, or may leave you compromised for life, it’s worth a concerted effort to improve in each area where you may fall short.

  1. Lower your high blood pressure (HBP). This is the main cause of stroke. If you do nothing else, get high blood pressure under control. Risk factors include being obese or overweight, being more than 35 years old, having a family history of HBP, being African-American, not being active, eating too much salt or over-indulging in alcohol, and being pregnant. More than 20 percent of people with HBP are unaware they have it, so make sure to ask a health care professional to get tested. If you have HBP (or to keep normal pressure where it is), eat a healthy diet and watch your salt intake. Become physically active and keep your weight down. Stay away from secondhand smoke and limit how much alcohol you drink.
  2. Don’t smoke. Nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke hurt your cardiovascular system. If you smoke, quit. Period.
  3. Control your diabetes mellitus.HBP and diabetes go hand in hand, and are often associated with high blood cholesterol and being overweight.
  4. Resolve to eat better. Cut down on saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in your diet. Watch your calories and strive to eat at least five servings of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables every day.
  5. Move, move, move! Inactivity and obesity can trigger a stroke. Go on a lively walk, take the stairs or park your car in a far corner of the lot. Do anything you can to make your body work a little. Set a realistic goal such as 30 minutes of daily exercise.
  6. Control high blood cholesterol. Doctors routinely tell us to keep our bad cholesterol down, but low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol also appear to be a stroke factor, at least for men. Cut down animal fats, including those in dairy products. Eat vegetarian a day or two every week, or substitute beef with fish.
  7. Manage atrial fibrillation. How? Reduce stress with yoga or meditation, drink plenty of water, get a good night’s sleep, control your weight, limit alcohol, drink coffee in moderation and watch your cholesterol.
  8. Perhaps you’re seeing a pattern here? Many of these problems are interrelated and go back to the mantra of “Eat well and get plenty of exercise.” Start by adding one more vegetable to your diet every day and taking a brisk walk for 15 minutes. When that’s a habit, bump up your plant intake and exercise routine on a regular basis. It’s OK to have a bad day; vow to get back on board when you wake up.