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Fall is beautiful in New Orleans. The summer heat is leaving, football is back, and holidays are right around the corner. As New Orleanians pass through autumn, it can be easy to get swept up in the comfort of indoor-days, long-sleeve weather, and holiday family cooking. Kids have the 31st marked for costumes and trick-or-treating, of course, but the end of October has another, more sobering, annual date.

Monday, Oct. 29 is World Stroke Day. Along with heart disease, stroke is one of the top killers both across the country and within New Orleans. It can affect anyone; approximately 610,000 Americans have their first stroke, every year, while another 185,000 experience recurrent strokes. They occur when blood supply to the brain is cut off, which can cause brain cells to be damaged or die, resulting in effects on a person’s body, mobility, speech and thought patterns – strokes are a leading cause of serious long-term disability.

African-Americans are more impacted by stroke than any other racial groups within the American population. African-Americans are twice as likely to die from stroke as Caucasians and their rate of first strokes is almost double that of Caucasians. Strokes in this population tend to occur earlier in life.  And as survivors, African-Americans are more likely to become disabled and experience difficulties with daily living and activities.

Not all of the reasons are clear why African-Americans have an increased risk of stroke. However, research points the fact that the very risk factors associated with stroke often disproportionately impact the African-American community. For instance, one in three 1 in 3 African-Americans suffer from high blood pressure.

World Stroke Day is observed to raise awareness on the serious nature of the condition, as well as stroke prevention and treatment, and to ensure better care and support for survivors. As a state, Louisiana experiences the second-highest impact from cardiovascular diseases. While anyone can be affected, making healthy life choices can greatly reduce stroke risk for yourself and your loved ones.

What Causes a Stroke?

Poor diet is the leading risk factor impacting cardiovascular health. Notably, sodium is a major cause of increasing blood pressure.

The average American adult consumes about 3,600 milligrams a day, while it’s recommended to not take in more than 2,300 milligrams daily.

High blood pressure, along with high cholesterol, high blood glucose levels (an indicator of diabetes) and high body mass index are the other top risk factors associated with strokes.

About one-third of U.S. adults have elevated levels of bad cholesterol, and nearly two-thirds have high blood pressure or prehypertension (the condition of having elevated blood pressure, indicating higher risk of high blood pressure).

Smoking and lack of physical activity also heavily contribute to increased risk for stroke.

Strokes Can be Prevented: Here’s How

The best strategy is a three-pronged approach to improving diet: eat fewer calories, exercise more and change unhealthy behaviors.

Yet, you shouldn’t sweat occasionally satisfying your sweet tooth. More critical to wellness than eliminating every sno-ball or slice of pie is maintaining an overall heart-healthy dietary pattern.

Dietary choices that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts are good for the heart. Processed foods (often high in sodium), red meat and sugary foods and beverages should be limited.

Start early.

Improving children’s skills, knowledge and capacity to live healthier lives is crucial to them making healthy, smarter choices as an adult.

Get active.

Start where you can, adding elements of exercise into your daily routine. For example, begin walking a little more, each day.

40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise three to four times a week is ideal, even just brisk walking will do.

Stop smoking.

Both traditional cigarettes and vaping increase blood pressure and risk of stroke

Stroke is common, but preventable. Through educating ourselves and taking simple, actionable steps, we can greatly improve our chances at a longer, stroke-free and heart-healthy future. For more information, visit heart.org.

Content provided courtesy of the American Heart Association with contribution from The New Orleans Tribune staff.

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