Strokes tend to spike during the holidays. Part of the reason could be that this time of year can be hectic and stressful. That — and the culinary temptations that accompany the holiday season — can have healthy habits falling by the wayside.
Many of those healthy habits, such as exercising regularly and following a balanced, nutritious diet, aren’t just key to preventing stroke. They’re also essential parts of managing or preventing the leading cause of stroke: high blood pressure.
How Does High Blood Pressure Lead to Stroke?
When blood pushes against the walls of your arteries with greater-than-normal force, it can damage the vessels. If a buildup of plaque causes a blockage in an artery to the brain, arterial damage from high blood pressure can make it worse. That can cause an ischemic stroke, which is the most common kind of stroke.
Hemorrhagic strokes — when a blood vessel in or near the brain bursts — are less common, but high blood pressure can play a role there, too. Arteries weakened by high blood pressure may be more likely to rupture and cause a hemorrhagic stroke.
The Gift of Prevention
As you search for the perfect gifts for the important people in your life, don’t forget to give yourself the most important present of all — commitment to prioritize your cardiovascular health. Here’s how you can minimize your risk of high blood pressure and stroke during this special time of year:
- Be a meticulous diabetes manager. Failure to keep your blood sugar levels within the ranges recommended by your physician can increase your risk for high blood pressure and stroke. Holiday tip — incorporate small servings of seasonal treats into your diabetes meal plan by cutting carbohydrates elsewhere.
- Indulge strategically. An unhealthy diet contributes to excess weight, and both make high blood pressure and stroke more likely. It’s OK to enjoy treats you can’t get any other time of year, but be smart about it. Splurge only on your most special foods, keep portions small, savor each bite and don’t snack absentmindedly.
- Keep moving. Inactivity is a risk factor for high blood pressure and stroke, so don’t neglect exercise during the holidays. Combine good cheer with movement by listening to holiday music during a run, watching a Christmas movie while walking on a treadmill or putting together a holiday-themed scavenger hunt around your home.
- Resolve to snuff out smoking. Stuck deciding on a New Year’s resolution? If you smoke, there’s nothing better you could do for your cardiovascular health than quit smoking in 2021.
- Say “cheers” to drinking in moderation. Overindulging in alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure. Limit drinks to two per day for men and one for women.
- Take time to celebrate you. Managing stress can help you maintain a healthy blood pressure. Amid the holiday hustle and bustle, be sure to take a few minutes each day to walk, read, practice yoga or do something else you find relaxing and enjoyable.