Diet, exercise, and mental health are all important factors in stroke prevention, doctor says


One of the most frightening moments in life is believing you are having a stroke. The sudden loss of balance/coordination, vision loss, face drooping, arm/leg weakness (usually on one side), and speech changes are a clear indicator to seek immediate help.

Recognizing the early signs of a stroke can go a long way to prevention, according to Dr. Desiree Bobino Thomas, associate chief of neurology at Kelsey Seybold Clinic. Adopting healthy eating habits, doing regular physical activity, and checking one’s blood pressure and cholesterol are effective in preventing a stroke.

“These measures may help tremendously. The best part is that they are all actions that we can control, unlike genetic factors. Eating balanced meals and incorporating exercise into a busy schedule are not always easy to accomplish, but it can be done,” Thomas said.

According to 2020 statistics compiled from the Center for Disease Control, one in six deaths from cardiovascular disease was due to stroke. About 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes, in which blood flow to the brain is blocked.

While strokes are more commonly thought to occur in people over age 55, they can happen as early as in infancy and early childhood, Bobino said, citing heart defects or genetic factors that might lead to a stroke.

She added obesity and a more sedentary lifestyle among children are also to blame. 

“Because of this, young children are developing the same health problems that plague adults, such as diabetes and high cholesterol. This leads to a higher risk of stroke,” she said.

Stress can raise your blood pressure or worsen other medical problems that increase your risk of a stroke, Bobino said. It’s why she says talking to your primary care provider about your emotional and mental well-being is important.

“They can help guide patients on activities that may help improve mental and emotional health, including referrals to behavioral health, exercise and meditation, diet changes, and hobbies,” she added.

When it comes to mental and emotional health, depression can also increase one’s risk for a stroke. According to Bobino, mental health disorders might lead a person to neglect their diet avoid exercise due to lack of motivation or fatigue, and not take medications as prescribed.

It’salso why she encourages people to take care of their “brain health.”

“The same actions that we take to keep our heart healthy and boost circulation helps your brain,” Bobino explained. “Diet, exercise, and routine physical checkups help to ensure your brain gets the proper nutrients and blood flow to lessen stroke risk.”

Bobino said she wants readers to understand how important it is for people to manage their health to prevent a stroke.

“Taking care of our bodies is hard work and life often gets in the way. But we only have one body, and if we can follow the diet and exercise recommendations from health care providers, it can prevent problems in the future,” she said.