June is National Stroke Month in Canada, and for good reason - strokes are the third leading cause of death nationally, according to the Government of Canada, but there are steps that citizens can take to minimize their risks. Awareness and education are key solutions for helping to guide people to healthy lives and stroke prevention.

What is a stroke? 

Though strokes are relatively common, many people are still unaware of what exactly causes them. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada stated that a stroke occurs when blood flow is stopped to any part of the brain, which damages cells. This can happen when a blood clot or other blockage stops blood from flowing inside an artery, called an ischemic stroke, or when an artery inside the brain ruptures, which is a hemorrhagic stroke. They can lead to permanent neurological problems, or in many cases, may be fatal. 

Poor cardiovascular health can lead to these events. Plaque buildups, like those that occur when a person has high cholesterol, can cause clots or blockages that trigger ischemic stroke, while hypertension is a major cause of weakened arteries that burst in the brain and lead to hemorrhagic stroke.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise can reduce your risks of stroke by 80 per cent. Adopting a healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise can reduce your risks of stroke by 80 per cent.

Stroke warning signs

Immediate medical intervention is essential for preventing lasting damage from a stroke. It's important to recognize the signs and to act quickly. The HSFC uses the acronym FAST to help people identify stroke symptoms:

  • Face - Is the face, or part of the face, drooping or partially paralyzed? 
  • Arms - Can both arms be raised? 
  • Speech - Is speech slurred, jumbled or otherwise incoherent?
  • Time - If the other signs are present, it's time to immediately call for emergency services. 

If you think you are having a stroke, do not try to drive yourself to the hospital. Instead, you should call 911. 

Preventing a stroke

Though strokes are most likely to impact seniors, anyone of any age could be susceptible. Maintaining good general heart health can go a long way to prevent a stroke from happening.

Your diet plays a key role. You should avoid foods that are high in sodium, fat and cholesterol, which can lead to high blood pressure, artery blockages and heart disease. Instead, meals should be based around fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens like spinach and kale, whole grains and lean proteins, so limit or avoid red meat all together. Tobacco products of any kind, but especially  cigarettes and cigars, greatly increase your risks of stroke and aren't safe in any moderation. 

You should also get plenty of exercise. Active Canada 2020 recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderately intense activity to improve their heart health. 

Find meals you enjoy that you can cook without extra salts or added fat, and try to find a way to work out that's enjoyable for you. Joining a group class at the gym or signing up for a local sports league can help motivate you to stay active. Embrace these steps as new lifestyle changes and you'll be more likely to stick to your regimes.