Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the U.S., but there are steps you take to help prevent them.

Here’s a subject I come back to often: Strokes. It’s a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, because like many of you, I have relatives who have had strokes, and I’ve seen it in its varying degrees from mini-strokes to massive strokes. It’s always a scary thing for the victim as well as the family. To date, strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the U.S.

Although strokes significantly affect senior citizens more than others, it does occur in men and women of ALL ages at a concerning rate. So, never think it can’t happen to you. As my grandmother used to say, “Strokes are not a respecter of persons,” meaning it does not care what your age is. The reality is that someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds. Let that sink in for a minute.

Now that I’ve successfully scared the bejeezus out of you, what can you do for yourself and your families to prevent this? Well, let’s start with seven things that you have control over: high blood pressure, weight gain, exercise, drinking alcohol, monitoring your heartbeat, treating or preventing diabetes, and smoking.

1. High blood pressure can quadruple your chances of having a stroke. Keeping control of it is imperative. Exercise consistently – at least 30 minutes a day four to five days a week. The body was made to stay active. Show your body you treasure it by taking care of yourself. Monitor your intake of salt or use salt substitutes. Eat fish, fruit, and whole grains regularly throughout the week. Stop smoking by any means necessary.

2. If you’re overweight by a little or a lot, losing weight (even 10 pounds) can significantly lower your chances of having a stroke. Make sure your daily calories make sense (for men that would be an average of 2,000 to 2,500 calories. For women it would be an average of 1,650 to 1,900 calories). If you have any questions on what is right for you, please contact me at www.michaelroyshaw.com/contact.

3. For exercise my main objective is for you to get moving. Work out at a gym an average of four days a week for 30 minutes or more. If you don’t like gyms, start a walking group with a girlfriend, boyfriend, co-worker, or neighbor and walk a mile on average a few times a week. You can also work out at home doing bodyweight exercises or using home exercise equipment. When you exercise always breathe deeply in the nose and breathe out through the mouth. Keep your oxygen flow deep and sound.

4. Drinking alcohol in moderation can also lower your risk of having a stroke. Moderation in my terms means a glass of red wine daily. If wine is not your thing you can have a 12-ounce beer or 1.5 ounce glass of hard liquor. Exceeding these amounts can increase your stroke chances. So, keep all things in moderation.

5. If you have shortness of breath or heart palpitations regularly you may need a blood thinner, like aspirin, daily. Ensure you consult your General Physician and get examined.

6. If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic check your sugar every day, and follow the diet and exercise regimens I outlined above.

7. If you’re a smoker, please plan to quit. Smoking can clog up your arteries and build up plaque. Overtime that can cause blood not to reach parts of your brain, which is a stroke.

Start slowly

Now on the exercise side I want you to start slowly if you haven’t been exercising regularly. Start walking. Get out of the house and walk around the block every morning or evening. Stretch the body a couple times a day. Give yourself weighted exercises to do at home or at a gym like bicep curls, squats, sit-ups, shoulder presses, walking or stationary lunges, torso twists, and standing leg curls to name a few. If you have any questions about any of these exercises, please contact me.

Included with this story is a photo of one of my clients, Jessica, in the midst of one of her exercises, cable bicep curls. I have featured Jessica previously for her bravery in competing in a bodybuilding competition in the masters division (competitors who are 35 years or older). Jess will proudly tell you that she’s well into her 40s and has no plans of letting Father Time write the chapters of her life. Like many of us, she has seen illness and strokes take beloved family members and friends over the years, and she wants to live not only a very long life, but a healthy one as well.

Over the past couple decades I have trained hundreds of men and women. The ones who remain ingrained in my memory are the ones with a spirit of iron like Jessica. Till this day I remain inspired by their will and spirit.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The first wealth is health.” Everything begins with good health. If you know of anyone who can benefit from this article, please share it with them. If you add any of the things I’ve mentioned here to improve your health, please send me your feedback to www.michaelroyshaw.com/contact.

Michael Shaw is a certified fitness trainer, sports performance nutrition specialist, owner of Shaw LLC, a member of the Maryland Advisory Council on Physical Fitness, and a fitness and fashion model manager. He can be reached at www.michaelroyshaw.com.