This June marks the official Stroke Awareness Month in Canada. As a private medical centre that specializes in cardiovascular health, our top priority is the prevention and early detection of possibly life-threatening conditions, such as heart attacks and strokes.
Did you know that with over 50,000 cases per year, strokes are the third largest cause of death in Canadian adults following heart disease and cancer?
Our everyday lifestyle choices can change this! Setting health and lifestyle goals for yourself is one of the most effective prevention tools and for this, we recommend using the acronym S.M.A.R.T., which we will expand on below, to guide you on your health journey.
But first, what is a stroke?
A stroke is an interruption of blood flow in the arteries of the brain, which subsequently causes cell damage. This interruption could be caused by: a blood clot, a ruptured artery, brain swelling or even a tumor. If not fatal, the effects of a stroke vary from mild to severe depending on the artery affected, and which area of the brain it covers.
The most common type of stroke is called an Ischemic Stroke which is caused by a clot or blockage in a blood vessel in your brain. The more fat and plaque that has accumulated in your arteries over time, the higher your risk of an ischemic stroke becomes.
How does a stroke affect your body?
The effects of a stroke on an individual will vary from one person to another, and is dependent on the area of the brain affected and the severity of the stroke. Normally this can affect your movement, speech, cognition, vision, and other senses. Stroke survivors often require rehabilitation after a stroke to help regain some of the abilities that they lost or to teach them new ways to adjust to their disabilities.
How to identify a stroke
A simple way to recognize a stroke when it occurs and potentially save a life is by remembering the acronym F.A.S.T. This stands for :
- F ace – Is your face drooping?
- A rms – Can you raise both of your arms?
- S peech – Is your speech slurred or jumbled?
- Time to call 911 right away.
A common phrase amongst neurologists is “time is brain”, which refers to the fact that the sooner a stroke is identified and managed in hospital, the better the odds of recovery.
One of the greatest risk factors for stroke is high blood pressure (or hypertension). This can double, and in some cases QUADRUPLE, an individual’s likelihood of having a stroke.
The main causes for hypertension include: being overweight, inactivity, smoking, consuming too much alcohol, consuming too much salt, stress, old age, and genetics. Nine out of ten Canadians have at least one of these. Luckily, many of these factors are avoidable through our own lifestyle choices!
At Cardiogenix, our health recommendations are always based on the Six Pillars of Health. Sleep, Diet, Exercise, Stress, Social Life, and sometimes Medications are variables that must be optimized in order to live your healthiest life. This year, our routines have been turned upside down due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, and many of us have become unmotivated when it comes to maintaining a healthy routine. In honour of Stroke Awareness Month this year, we believe that the first step to reduce your risk is through Exercise. We want everyone to get off their couch, onto their feet and get moving!
How does exercise help?
Exercise is the ultimate drug-free blood pressure regulator… but why is that? The first thing to take into consideration is that your heart is a muscle and like all muscles, it needs to be working regularly in order to stay strong. The stronger our muscles are, the less effort is exerted to do their job. High blood pressure means that your heart is having a harder time pumping blood through your body either because it is too weak or because of a blockage in your blood vessels. Since your heart never stops beating, strengthening it through exercise will ensure that it maintains its ability to do its job properly throughout your life and decreases your risk of complications. By getting your heart rate up through physical activity, you are stimulating blood flow and providing a better distribution of oxygen and nutrients through every inch of your body including your brain, which is why we often feel so good and alert after working out! Exercise works best when paired with a healthy diet ー minimizing your intake of alcohol, salt, sugar and other fatty foods will keep your blood vessels clear of build-up, avoiding stroke causing clots and blockages.
Where do I start?
As mentioned above, the best tool for stroke prevention is by creating health and lifestyle goals for yourself in order to maintain a long and healthy life. At Cardiogenix, one of our favourite tools to help achieve these goals is by being S.M.A.R.T. with how you go about setting them.
- S pecific – Be specific about the goal you wish to achieve. In the context of stroke prevention, the idea is to improve on the controllable risk factors that you present such as your weight, your alcohol consumption habits, inactivity, etc.
- M easurable – It is important to track your progress throughout your health journey to determine what is working or not working for you.
- A chievable – Set goals that are realistic. Getting healthy is a process, so in order to keep motivated, starting with smaller goals and building up as you progress is the way to go!
- R elevant – If your goal is to decrease your likelihood of stroke and improve your cardiovascular health, we recommend speaking to your Doctor for guidance on what will help you specifically. Everybody is different, and therefore the way we go about achieving the same goal may vary!
- T imely – Timing is crucial when it comes to your health. The sooner you make positive changes in your life, the longer and healthier your life will be. It is best to prevent health concerns before they happen rather than having to deal with them once they occur.
In addition to S.M.A.R.T., our Athletic Therapist, Rosemary, created a video demonstrating both cardiovascular and muscular exercises to do in your home during self-isolation to help get you started on your health journey even while social distancing!
Remember, 75% of stroke risk factors are preventable through our everyday decisions.
Be S.M.A.R.T. with your health, or you may have to act F.A.S.T.
Stay safe and healthy everyone!
#StrokeAwarenessMonth #Health #Prevention