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November 26, 2008 > Stroke Prevention: It's in Your Hands

Stroke Prevention: It's in Your Hands

Experts Unlock the Key to Stroke Prevention, Healthy Lifestyle

Choosing to visit a physician each year for an annual check-up. Wearing a seatbelt when driving. Keeping up-to-date on vaccinations.

These are choices we make to keep ourselves safe and healthy.

"When we talk about lifestyle choices, we're talking about wellness," says Doug Van Houten, R.N. clinical coordinator for Washington Hospital's Stroke Program.
It just so happens that lifestyle choices have an enormous impact on whether or not an individual will avoid having a stroke.

On Tuesday, Dec. 2, Van Houten will discuss in detail how healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent stroke.

An estimated 780,000 Americans each year suffer a new or recurrent stroke, according to the American Stroke Association (ASA). That means, on average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds. Stroke kills more than 150,000 people a year and it remains the No. 3 cause of death behind diseases of the heart and cancer.

But the disease is almost entirely preventable, given that people become aware of their habits early on and make conscious healthy lifestyle choices and work to curb unhealthy habits that increase stroke risk.

"I tell participants, 'These are lifestyles that we're asking you to change,'" Van Houten says. "Change is a challenge because all of us form habits that can be difficult to break without consistent and conscious effort."

During the seminar, Van Houten will break down the lifestyle changes necessary to reduce the chances of having a stroke. These include:
* Reducing weight
* Quitting smoking
* Mitigating drug and alcohol use
* Managing hypertension
* Achieving a healthy diet
* Becoming more active
* Controlling diabetes
* Reducing stress

Making the changes to achieve these goals can seem daunting, so beginning with small changes can make a world of difference, Van Houten says.

During his talk, he will offer plenty of tips and tricks to help community members reach their personal goals. When it comes to exercise, for instance, he says it's easier to stick to a walking regimen if you have a friend you're committed to meeting after work or during your lunch hour. Or, if other things keep getting in the way of your exercise routine, schedule it on your calendar the same way you would an important appointment.

But when you feel healthy, it can be tough to skip that trip through the drive-thru for a burger and fries in favor of a salad with low-fat dressing. The problem is that unlike many other chronic conditions, stroke often has no warning signs and there may not be a second chance to make changes.

"People sometimes have a hard time seeing the consequences of poor lifestyle choices," Van Houten points out. "Remembering back to when you were in high school and all of your friends were going for burgers, you may wonder why should it be any different in your older years. There are all sorts of things we put out of our minds, which can come back to haunt us. It's about being a human being. Being proactive about our health and being future oriented may be difficult, but it's worth the effort.

"I say you can be terribly disabled at 50 or you can do everything you can to be healthy and live to be a strong vital person in your 80s and not suffer through the detrimental effects of stroke. Oftentimes, you only have one chance at good health and you want to do everything you can to make that happen."

Healthy lifestyle choices like the ones Van Houten will discuss have the ability to do more than just reduce stroke risk. These changes can go a long way toward maintaining overall health.

"Everything you do to prevent stroke also reduces your chances of developing things like heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and cancer," he says. "That's the little secret message: If you are savvy about your healthy lifestyle for stroke, you're also duplicating the benefits for all these other chronic health conditions."

The time is now to prevent stroke

On Tuesday, Dec. 2, Doug Van Houten R.N. and Ash Jain, M.D., medical director of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program, will discuss Stroke Prevention and Healthy Lifestyle during a free seminar from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To register, call (800) 963-7070.

To learn more about classes and seminars at Washington Hospital, visit, click on "The Community," and select "Community Seminars & Health Classes."

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