11 Ways to Thrive, Survive, and Manage the Risks of Stroke

Black Facts.com

By National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke

Stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability, with nearly 800,000 Americans having a stroke each year. Making matters worse, Black/African American men are at substantially higher risk for high blood pressure and strokes, according to medical experts. Over time, uncontrolled high blood pressure, especially in mid-life, can damage blood vessels and lead to a stroke. High blood pressure can also lead to other damage in the brain that has been associated with dementia.

The good news is people can take steps now to get their blood pressure numbers into a healthy range—or keep their numbers in a healthy range—to help prevent stroke and dementia later in life. This World Stroke Day (October 29, 2023), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is raising awareness of this important topic and sharing tips to help manage the risks.

Steps to Manage Your Risks for Stroke & Dementia

  • Know your blood pressure numbers. Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number, your systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number, your diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. If the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, you would say, “120 over 80,” or write, “120/80 mm Hg.” If left unchecked, high blood pressure can damage the cells of your arteries’ inner lining and cause a hardening called arteriosclerosis, blocking blood flow to your heart, brain, and kidneys, as well as to your muscles. Keep in mind that your blood pressure changes throughout the day based on your activities.
  • Normal Blood Pressure for Most Adults
    • Less than 120/80 mm HG
  • High Blood Pressure
    • 130 or higher/80 or higher mm HG
  • Stay informed. Discuss high blood pressure with your healthcare provider. Use this guide to talk to your healthcare provider about your risks and ways to manage your blood pressure to help prevent stroke and dementia. Then, make a plan together and stick with it.
  • Take your medications. Your healthcare provider may recommend taking medicine daily to prevent stroke and heart attack, especially if you have high blood pressure.
  • Quit smoking or using tobacco. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart. Any amount of smoking, even light or occasional smoking, damages the heart and blood vessels. 
  • Manage your cholesterol levels. Reducing your cholesterol will lower your risk for developing a wide variety of serious health issues, including stroke and heart disease.
  • Eat healthy foods and exercise. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, cut down on fried foods, and use less salt. Get in about 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling every day. Following a healthy eating plan and keeping physically active on a regular basis will significantly lower your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic and debilitating health problems.
  • Manage your diabetes. Having diabetes or pre-diabetes puts you at increased risk for stroke and heart disease. You can lower your risk by keeping your blood glucose (also called blood sugar), blood pressure, and blood cholesterol close to the recommended target numbers provided by your healthcare provider.
  • Avoid using illicit drugs and misusing alcohol. Generally, an increase in alcohol consumption leads to an increase in blood pressure. The use of illicit drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, can cause stroke.
  • Get enough sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep every night is important for good heart and brain health. Adults should aim for an average of 7-9 hours, and babies and kids need more depending on their age. 
  • Stick to the plan. This is the hard part, but keeping your heart and brain healthy can lead to better overall health as you age. 
  • Start early. Preventing stroke and heart disease is more effective if started in midlife. Studies also find that controlling blood pressure may also reduce the risk of dementia.

These simple and effective lifestyle changes can reduce your chance of all types of stroke, heart disease, and dementia later in life. Taking charge of your health now can help avoid unnecessary risks and keep blood pressure under control.

Interview with
Richard T. Benson, M.D., Ph.D. 
Director, Office of Global Health and Health Disparities
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

For more tips and information, visit the Mind Your Risks®website at mindyourrisks.nih.gov.

Black Facts.com