How exercise and diet helped save my life
By Stacy Quinn, Guest Blogger
There’s a lot more to being healthy than eating right and exercising. The human body is a very complex machine, and any number of issues can throw anyone’s health into a tailspin—even if you do everything you can to be healthy.
Truth be told, some of what happens in life isn’t fair. For example, the American Heart Association reports that more than 40,000 babies are born with a heart defect each year. While these defects can be explained by science, many of them happen because something goes awry during the baby’s development in the womb.
No, I was not born with a heart defect. I’m using this example to stress how intricate the human body is and how every artery and cellular structure plays a role in our overall health—regardless of things like diet, exercise, blood pressure, cholesterol level, etc. These things, however, are within our power to control. And despite all that can happen with our biology, the areas that we can manage play a big part in how our body handles trauma if and when it comes around.
That’s why on October 29, World Stroke Day, I reflect on how I never considered stroke a threat to me. Why would I? I was young, healthy and a non-smoker. I eat healthy, exercise, have normal blood pressure and have low cholesterol. And, my understanding was that stroke was something that affected older people, particularly men.
While this mindset almost killed me, my healthy lifestyle saved me.
My stroke of luck
Flashback three years ago: On my way to work I get a headache that feels like it could split my skull open. I pop a few headache pills and load up on caffeine because I have a lot to do at work. In a meeting with my boss, I slur my speech. Despite taking a few minutes to consider why I can’t put together a sentence, my words quickly return and I power through the rest of the day.
So what was going on? One of the main arteries between my heart and brain dissected (carotid artery dissection), causing a 90% blockage of blood flow that sparked a transient ischemic attack (TIA), commonly called a mini-stroke. I waited more than 10 days to see a neurologist because I thought I was tired, overworked and stressed out. If I weren’t fit and healthy, I likely would have had a stroke that could have left me with long-term health issues or killed me. Taking care of myself in all the ways I had control over is one of the main reasons I am here to write this blog.
Sound like a stretch? It’s not. According to the World Stroke Organization, 90% of strokes are linked to 10 key risk factors, many of which can be minimized through things like eating right, exercising and managing blood pressure and cholesterol. The stats don’t lie, and the overwhelming majority of the stats tie back to things we have relative control over. For example, one in five strokes are linked to obesity, more than one in four are linked to high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), and more than one-third of all strokes affect people who don’t exercise regularly.
In my case, I can’t connect the mini stroke to any of those 10 key risk factors. I just happen to be one in 100,000 people who have this happen to them for no known cause. My overall health, however, played a critical role in how my body handled my health crisis. I believe that my health kept me out of the operating room, helped me quickly return to most of my pre-stroke activities and reduced the blockage in my artery from 90% to 40%.
Knowledge is power and saves lives
I need to emphasize that health, while extremely important, isn’t everything. Knowledge and awareness are key. In my case, I ignored symptoms that were trying to tell me that something was wrong. I was also guilty of thinking that stroke was something only older men suffered from. What many people don’t know is that stroke is largely treatable and preventable, and patient recovery is strongly dictated by how fast it’s treated. Here are a few things I learned from my experience:
- Always put your health first. You are in charge of your own health. Make healthy choices and if something doesn’t feel right, don’t wait to seek medical attention. In the case of stroke, nearly 2 million brain cells die each minute a stroke goes untreated.
- Get active and always keep moving. Take a walk. Ride your bike. Go to the gym. Thirty minutes of exercise a day, five times a week improves heart and brain health, and helps prevent stroke.
- Women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men. The American Stroke Association ranks stroke as the third cause of death in women.
- Stroke is not just a disease of older people. Stroke in the young is increasing worldwide. Stroke does not discriminate—it affects babies and children.
- Know the stroke symptoms. An easy way to remember is FAST:
- Face drooping: Can the person smile normally, or does one side of the face droop?
- Arm weakness: When the person raises both arms, does one drift downward?
- Speech difficulty: Can the person speak normally, or is speech slurred?
- Time to call 911: If you see or experience any ONE of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
On World Stroke Day, be a stroke hero and share the warning signs of stroke with one person and ask them to do the same. Together, we can end stroke and save lives.
For more information, visit the American Stroke Association’s web site.
Stacy Quinn is an Ambassador for Go Red For Women. You can follow her on twitter @Healthy4Good.