Make Stroke Prevention a Top Priority

Riddle: What could your credit card airline miles and your hard-earned vacation days possibly have in common with stopping a stroke? Answer: A strict "use it or lose it" policy applies to all three. Getting your brain cells into gear now can prevent a brain attack later.
Strokes are so scary, most of us don't even want to think about them -- one big survey found you're three times more likely to worry about burglaries than this threat to your most important organ. (No, not that one. We mean your brain.) But a boatload of do-it-now recent research proves that knowledge = brain-saving power. Here's the stroke news YOU need to know:
  • Little choices help you sidestep big brain trouble. Turns out that plenty of "no big deal" decisions are a big deal -- like moving your hand 2 inches to the left when picking out canned beans in the supermarket, so you grab the type not soaked in salt. Or ordering the broiled trout instead of the fried. Or hopping on your exercise bike instead of the sofa when you're watching The Biggest Loser. Or saying, "Great!" when your kid/partner/best friend says, "Lets go see the latest Harry Potter movie . . . again!" (Close ties are healthy.)

  • Got any of these risks? Reverse them. No strokes on your family tree? Terrific, but you're not home free. Genes seem to play a smaller role in stroke than in heart attack. Focus instead on these big risks -- which are reversible: high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking (including secondhand smoke), off-beat heart rhythms, clogged arteries, even advancing age.
  • Get gold-standard brain care. It's out there. Clot-busting drugs save brain cells after an ischemic stroke (the most common type) if you get them within a few hours of a stroke's start. So if you spot early signs of a stroke (cut out our easy-to-remember "FAST" list below), get to a hospital that has a certified stroke center at siren speed. (Put the nearest hospital in your cell phone to show the EMT team.) Calling an ambulance and saying "Stroke!" can double or even quadruple the chances of getting to a stroke-certified hospital in time for clot busters to work their magic. Late arrival is a key reason few people -- just 1 in 25 -- who need them get these brain-saving drugs.
Convinced? Take these four steps:
  1. Think F-A-S-T. If you even vaguely suspect someone (you?) is having a stroke, act F-A-S-T. It's short for:
    • Face. Ask the person to smile (if it's you, look in a mirror). If one side droops, it could be a stroke.
    • Arms. Ask the person to raise them. If one arm drifts downward, it could be a stroke.
    • Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. If the speech is garbled or strange, it could be a stroke.
    • Time. See signs? Call 911 right away.
  2. Pinpoint the location of the best local stroke care. Today. As soon as you finish this column, go to or to find the nearest hospital with a certified stroke center. Getting to it increases your survival chances by 20%. Ambulances will usually go to a stroke center, but request it anyway when you call 911.
  3. Exercise slightly harder. Your brain likes it. Bumping up the intensity just a little can cut by 40% your odds of a "silent" stroke -- a whispered, brief brain attack that boosts your risk for the real thing fivefold. Silent strokes are super common: About 11% of people ages 55 to 65 and half of people over 80 have them. Signs include one side of your body feeling numb or weak for a few moments; a vision fade-out; or a few seconds when you can't understand what others are saying or can't make yourself understood. Tell your doc what you think happened; it could be a warning.
  4. Feed your brain smart foods. Just swapping olive oil for butter or creamy dressings could cut your stroke odds 41%. Choosing broiled or poached fish instead of fried fin food three times a week can lower them 30%. These two simple antistroke steps lower your blood pressure and lousy LDL cholesterol, cool inflammation, and discourage blood clots. Then, cut back on salt, which is practically fuel injected into fast food, restaurant fare, and many packaged foods. Eating lots of it increases your risk of the most common form of strokes.
Cut out this list and stick it on your fridge.


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