Wondering how to avoid having a stroke?
Stroke is the number three killer in the United States, affecting almost 800,000 people each year, according to the National Stroke Association. These “brain attacks” occur in two ways, either when blood flow to the brain is interrupted (an ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts (a hemorrhagic stroke). For 144,000 people each year, the result is death. Hundreds of thousands of others are left with long-term disabilities.
Both uncontrollable and controllable risk factors play important roles in deciding who get strokes and who does not, such as genetics, age and race – for example, the prevalence of stroke in blacks is about twice that of whites. Also, stroke prevalence is more than twice as high in individuals with fewer than 12 years of education, compared to college graduates. In addition, stroke risk in people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is double that of the general population, according to various studies.
Out of all the various stroke risk factors, scientists have found that the below seven are at the very top:
Eating A High-Fat Diet
The same foods associated with heart attacks, including red meat and anything fried, can also raise your risk of a brain attack. At the recent American Stroke Association’s (ASA) International Stroke Conference, researchers from the University of North Carolina presented findings that post-menopausal women who consumed high-fat diets had 40 percent more incidences of ischemic stroke than low-fat eaters. Trans fats, found in processed foods like pastries and crackers, seem particularly nasty: The group of women who consumed seven grams of trans fat each day had 30 percent more stroke incidents than those who ate one gram.
So what to eat instead? Multiple studies suggest that a Mediterranean-inspired diet can lower stroke risk. That means lots of vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and very little red meat and sweets.
If you’re a man who’d like to cut his chances of a fatal stroke, get hitched. A Tel Aviv University study of more than 10,000 Israeli men found that those who were married at midlife were 64 percent less likely to die of a stroke during the next 34 years than single men. The data was adjusted for other stroke risk factors like socioeconomic status, blood pressure and smoking.
But there’s a catch: The marriage has to be a happy one. Men who reported dissatisfying marriages were just as likely as single men to die of a stroke, the researchers reported at the ASA’s International Stroke Conference.
Happiness is music to your cardiovascular system. Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston reported in 2001 that among older individuals, positive moods and attitudes protected against strokes. Even incremental increases in happiness helped: For every step up on the researchers’ happiness scale, male participants’ stroke risk dropped 41 percent. Women’s risk dropped 18 percent per happiness unit.