A “healthy lifestyle” can really take on a lot of different meanings depending on who you are talking to! It can sometimes seem overwhelming and hard to think about getting started with being healthier, especially with the added pressure of either healing from or trying to prevent a stroke. But I’m here to tell you that you can get started today on making small changes that can have big, lasting impacts on your health and wellbeing, and hopefully help you recover from your stroke or prevent one in the future!
There are several key factors that you can take charge of to improve your cardiovascular and brain health and healing. My advice to help with getting over the short term hump and build the change into a more successful longer term plan is to choose one thing you can get started with today… then build from there. Set a manageable goal (that you can measure somehow!) Check in with yourself, or ask someone to hold you accountable. Make the change fun in some way, so you can look forward to it instead of dread it. If you’re a visual person, make a calendar and mark off your success everyday. Celebrate victories, and give yourself grace with days that are harder to stick to the plan. We are all human and change is hard. Here are some ways to get healthy!
1) Eat better.
Try not to let this scare you! With all of the trends and fads, changing guidelines, and amount of information out there, it may seem daunting. Instead of thinking you need to do a total overhaul of your eating, pick something doable. Some ideas to get started (again, pick one or two to start with):
-Buy foods with less sodium and don’t add extra salt to your food.
-Eat more fruits and veggies. Eat what you normally eat, but add a small helping of a fruit or vegetable to each meal.
-Don’t eat as much sugar (I didn’t say to take it all away!) Switch out a bottle of water for your soda. Have dessert every other day instead of every day.
-Try to cook/prepare more meals at home instead of eating out to avoid some of the fried choices and added sugars.
-Choose foods that have the Heart-Check symbol (this means they are deemed heart-healthy by the American Heart Association!)
2) Be more active.
Again, try not to let this seem too hard. Start by taking a short walk once a day, and gradually add to your distance. Take a new fitness class. Try to get up and move around more instead of remaining seated. Adding resistance (weights) benefits your muscles (and your heart is a muscle!) but again, try something small to start with so that you can be successful. Add on to the amount of time, resistance, or distance gradually so you can increase your intensity for even better care of your heart and brain.
3) Stop Smoking.
Easier said than done, I know! Work with your primary care doctor to figure out a truly feasible strategy, and stick to it. Remember that you are trying to let your brain heal (or that you are trying to avoid a stroke). Smoking increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. You can do it!
4) Manage your blood pressure/cholesterol/blood sugar.
Set up an appointment with your primary care doctor today. Get all of your important labs checked, and see what your doctor comes up with for a plan. If this includes medications, make sure you understand how and when to take them, how you will get your prescriptions, and how you will make sure to remember to take them (that may mean using pill box organizers and putting your medications in front of the coffee pot so you’ll see them each morning!) Some parts of the strategy may be related to the above topics (eat better and be more active). Collaborate with your doctor and advocate for yourself to figure out a plan that you can stick to. Blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar can all impact your stroke and heart disease risk if they get too far out of the safe range for too long.
5) Address your mental health.
Check in with yourself each week: are you getting enough sleep? If not, see about making small changes such as putting your devices down at least 30 minutes before bedtime, or setting up a more peaceful sleep environment (dark, quiet, no TVs). Try to work on stress management, such as saying no or delegating tasks when you have too much going on. Recovery (and prevention) are important, so remember saying no is okay! Make sure to prioritize yourself and put self-care high on your list. If you are seeing an occupational therapist, the OT can help with sleep hygiene, suggesting calming strategies, and help you find a way to make this more routine in your life.
And don't forget: you can do this!
Empower yourself and be your own best advocate. Make a plan that you can stick to! This often means choosing one particular thing to start with, and sticking with it until it becomes more routine for you. Usually this takes 2-3 weeks, so don’t give up too quickly. This is your personal journey to better health, brain healing, and prevention. Only you can decide how to best get yourself on board with these key lifestyle changes so that you can stick to your healthier lifestyle journey. You’ve got this!
American Heart Association (heart.org)
American Stroke Association (stroke.org)
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