Q: My dad is 54 and just had a stroke! I’m turning 30 and don’t want that to happen to me. What exactly causes a stroke and how can I stay healthy? — Kathy P., Little Rock, Ark.
A: You’re smart to get in front of this problem. These days, when 20 percent of strokes hit folks younger than 55, everyone needs to get on board with stroke prevention. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself.
Stroke facts: There are three types of strokes. Ischemic stroke accounts for 87 percent of all events; it’s caused by a blockage from a clot or plaque in a vessel that supplies blood to the brain. The remaining 13 percent are from hemorrhagic stroke — from a ruptured blood vessel — and transient ischemic attack, also called a ministroke, largely caused by a clot or platelet plug in your carotid artery or a clot in your heart, if you have atrial fibrillation.
Who’s at risk? There are nonmodifiable genetic and age-related factors that increase the risk of stroke. But you should concentrate on your modifiable risk factors. They include hypertension, smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, elevated LDL and triglyceride levels, poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity (especially belly fat), metabolic syndrome, alcohol and drug abuse and sleep apnea.
Your stroke busters: First, eliminate exposure to tobacco smoke, recreational drugs and excess alcohol (more than one glass of wine a day for women and two for men). Then, through diet and exercise, you can control high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, a-fib, diabetes and metabolic syndrome and even sleep apnea.
Start with 60 minutes of brisk walking daily, building up to your goal of 10,000 steps, and practice stress reduction through meditation. Avoid the Five Food Felons — added sugars and sugar syrups, any grain that’s not 100 percent whole, most saturated fats and all trans fats — and up your fiber intake from vegetables and fruits. Take blood pressure medication if prescribed (it can cut stroke risk by 32 percent) and, if your doc OKs it, two baby aspirin a day with a half glass of warm water before and after. Start today, and your tomorrows will bring you a brighter future and a younger RealAge!
Q: I’m having a hard time sleeping and I was wondering if there were sleeping aids out there that you recommend? — Dorothy O., Wichita, Kan.
A: No — and yes. We don’t advocate sleeping pills, for many reasons. Sleeping-pill-related emergency room visits skyrocketed from 6,111 in 2005 to 19,487 in 2010. Seems zolpidem (found in four brand-name sleeping aids) has bad aftereffects; most of the ER visits (68 percent were women) were from injuries caused by morning drowsiness. The risk was so bad the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made drug manufacturers cut the recommended dosage for women in half and suggested that doctor’s also lower men’s dosage. And don’t get us started on the documented incidents of night wandering and oblivious eating.
Another risk: Whenever you take a sedative to sleep, you may disturb, skip or suppress parts of your natural sleep cycle that are important for consolidation of memories and good cognitive functioning.
If you need to get sleep, here’s our safe and effective countdown to a good night’s rest:
5. Nix caffeine after noon.
4. No alcohol or nicotine for 90 minutes before bed.
3. Keep your sleep zone dark, cool and comfy.
2. No bill-paying, TV-watching or e-mailing while in bed (couples without a TV in the bedroom have 50 percent more sex).
1. No exercising within three hours of bedtime (but make sure you get physical activity every day!).
Spending more time in deep sleep and cycling through the four stages of sleep will keep your energy level high, your mind sharp and your body lookin’ good (and ready for 50 percent more sex). No wonder better sleep can roll your RealAge back 3.4 years.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.