Exercises like aerobic activities can lower blood pressure, while strengthening muscles and bones is also important.

OK, if you had to guess the top five illnesses in the U.S. what do you think they’d be? I’m guessing many of you would mention cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Guesses on the remaining illnesses would probably vary. The reason I bring this up now is because I’m focusing this particular article on strokes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in Delaware. Known as the silent killer, it affects men and women of different ages. There are four types of strokes, but for the purpose of this article I am focusing on one of them: ischemic. Ischemic is when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain is obstructed. They account for more than 80% of strokes.

When blood flow to an area of our brain is cut off, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and brain cells begin to die. When that happens, abilities controlled by that particular area of the brain, like memory and muscle function are lost. As many of you who are stroke survivors, and friends and family of stroke survivors know, the journey to regain those functions can test your will and your faith.

So, with all of that said, how can exercise and wellness help? Well, let’s begin with smoking. Unlike other coaches, I’m not going to preach to you if you are a smoker. I believe in free will, but I also believe in keeping it real. The reality is that smokers have twice the risk of having a stroke versus non-smokers. Women in particular significantly increase their risk (up to 9 times) the more packs a day they smoke versus non-smokers.

As for exercise, concentrate on exercises that can lower blood pressure, like aerobic activity. Walking on a treadmill or outdoors, climbing a stair climber, pedaling an arc trainer, octane, stationary or traditional bike, are all good activities.

Strengthening muscles and bones is also important. Weighted resistance exercises are essential. Resistance bands, dumbbells, stack weight machines, and barbells, are all great pieces of equipment to use. Personally, I like clients to do compound movements. Compound exercises are exercises that work multiple muscle groups. A good example is doing bicep curls with stationary lunges. Another great example are squats. Squats can work your hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes.

It’s a good idea to consult a personal trainer on the exercises that are right for you and the proper way to do some of the aforementioned exercises. In addition to being more effective, a good trainer can also lower your risk of injury. Please contact me if you have any questions on the exercises or any other things mentioned in this article. Consult your physician before doing a physical program.

Improving your wellness is also very important. Wellness in its most general meaning is the state of being in good health. I’m specifically referring to your diet and supplements. For the purpose of this article I’m concentrating on things that can improve prevention of ischemic strokes.

A good example is eating more vegetables. You should have several servings of vegetables daily. Vegetables can increase your intake of vitamins B12 and B6, and folic acid. I mention those specific nutrients because they can lower blood levels of homocysteine. High levels of it can increase the rates of strokes and heart disease. Vegetables along with a good source of lean protein, like fish and chicken, and healthy carbohydrates, like quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potatoes, can increase your energy, lower your weight, blood pressure, and bad cholesterol.

If your doctor recommends it, also take aspirin. Low-dose aspirin is often prescribed to prevent a second stroke, mini-stroke, and heart attack. It’s also prescribed to folks who are at high risk of having a stroke or heart attack. If you’re unsure if you should be doing this regimen, consult your doctor.

Although the focus of this article is preventing ischemic strokes, it’s also important in this piece to ensure that you know what early signs to look for if you think you may be having a stroke or experiencing stroke-like symptoms and are not sure what is happening. The F.A.S.T. approach is the most common. The acronym F.A.S.T. stands for: Face (smile and see if one side of your face droops), Arms (raise your arms and see if one droops), Speech (talk and see if your speech is slurred or strange), Time (if you respond to any of these with “yes” call 911 and write down the times when you experienced the changes). Timing is crucial if you’re having a stroke.

Although strokes are more common in older adults, strokes are not a respecter of age. You could have one at 25, 35, 65, or anywhere in between. It’s important to know this so you’re always prepared. Take care of yourself for yourself and those you love. If you’re a parent or take care of a parent or loved one remember you’re no good to them if your own health is compromised.

One of my favorite phrases is a Cheyenne Native American one that states, “Our first teacher is our own heart.” Let your heart guide you and let it teach you. The more we take care of our body, mind and spirit, the more they’ll take care of us.

Michael Shaw is an award-winning certified master fitness trainer and sports performance nutrition specialist, owner of Shaw Fitness LLC, club manager and head trainer for Snap Fitness Middletown, and a fitness and fashion model manager. You can schedule to meet him at Snap Fitness in Middletown, 302-376-6969, or reach him at michaelroyshaw82@gmail.com.