We’ve all heard about someone having a heart attack, but we hear less often about someone having a brain attack. Both are life-threatening conditions characterized by a lack of blood flow to our most vital organs. One in five women will suffer a stroke in their lifetime, and strokes kill twice as many women as breast cancer.

But did you know that 80% of strokes can be prevented? While some risk factors for stroke are untreatable (including age, race, gender and genetics), other risk factors are treatable and will reduce your chance of having a stroke, even if you’re predisposed to one. May is National Stroke Prevention Month; help prevent yourself from becoming a statistic by mitigating the factors that put you at risk. 

Think of the vascular system in the body as similar to the piping in your home. Those pipes need to remain clear and clean in order for the water to flow through easily and fill that bath that awaits you. Our arteries carry richly oxygenated blood through the entire body system—our nose to our toes—and it fuels the body’s vital organs.

When these tips are followed, the brain will be well oxygenated:

Quit smoking – Smoking increases the formation of blood clots and thickens the blood, which in turn creates blockage in the arteries. This single change is considered the best tip for reducing the chances of having a stroke.
Drink in moderation – Alcohol can actually reduce the risk of having a stroke, as long as the drink is limited to one per day. The opposite impact on stroke risk follows when moderate drinking exceeds two drinks per day.
Exercise – This will lead to weight loss and reduce blood pressure. Five days per week of moderate exercise such as walking.
Lose weight – Reduce weight by establishing a practice of eating whole foods, which will slow the aging process as well.
Lower your blood pressure – This is essential for reducing stroke risk and, once controlled, will improve blood vessel health to allow rich oxygenated blood to travel to the brain.

Following these tips will give your blood vessels a reduced amount of stress, less rigidity and less blockage, translating into a better flow through the pipes that keep our hearts and our brains thinking.

An accomplished nurse clinician, educator and academic dean, Kathleen O’Grady Winston, PhD, RN joined the University of Phoenix in the fall of 2018 and serves as Dean for the College of Nursing.