If you’ve had a stroke, you probably found the experience frightening. Whether it was a mild stroke with a quick recovery or a more severe stroke where you’re still dealing with the aftereffects, a stroke is a life-changing event. The good news is you can channel your experience with a stroke toward positive changes in your life.
Mohamed Teleb, MD, an endovascular neurologist with Banner Brain & Spine, said, “Healthy lifestyle changes can help you build strength and energy so you can enjoy life, plus they can help you prevent another stroke.”
You’ll want to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your lifestyle to make sure the modifications are appropriate for you and your condition. That said, most people who have had a stroke could benefit from adding some of these five changes into their lives.
1. Get into (or back into) an exercise program
As you recover, it’s great to work some physical activity into your life. Start out doing what you can and aim to increase until you’re exercising for 30 minutes most days of the week. Walking is an excellent option for people who have had a stroke. Choose a pace where you feel like your breathing is heavy, but you’re not out of breath.
It’s a good idea to add some light strength-training workouts so you can rebuild muscles that might have weakened after your stroke. You can also include stretching to improve your flexibility and balance training to help you recover from balance issues after your stroke.
And, you might want to try group exercises, whether that’s yoga classes, water aerobics or group walks. The camaraderie can boost your accountability and motivation.
2. Move plants to the center of your diet
“Healthy eating can help you heal, and it’s one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of having another stroke,” Dr. Teleb said. Two options to try are the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
Both diets are long-term eating plans, not temporary changes. They include a lot of vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes and nuts and moderate amounts of fish and poultry. With them, you minimize processed foods, dairy, red meat and sweets.
Don’t worry if this type of eating is a big change for you. You can start small, for example, by adding a vegetable or fruit serving to most meals and shift your diet gradually.
3. Make sure you’re getting plenty of restorative sleep
After a stroke, you might have insomnia. You might have trouble staying asleep through the night and then you feel drowsy the next day. Try to exercise and get exposure to light during the day, avoid eating and drinking for two to three hours before bedtime and keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. “If taking these steps on your own doesn’t improve your sleep, talk to your doctor,” Dr. Teleb said.
Sometimes, people have nighttime breathing problems after a stroke, such as sleep-disordered breathing and sleep apnea. These problems can keep you from sleeping well, even though you may not realize your sleep is disrupted. If you find that you’re sleepy during the day and you have trouble concentrating, talk to your doctor about possible sleep issues.
4. Find ways to manage your stress
Stroke survivors often have high levels of stress. You might be worried about your recovery, frightened that you might have another stroke, concerned about paying your medical bills or dealing with emotional and mental changes. Finding ways to cope with stress can support you during your recovery.
Exercise can help, as can meditation, mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, massage or deep breathing. Choose a stress-relieving activity that appeals to you. It can also help to talk about your feelings with a friend or family member or with a counselor or therapist.
5. Stay connected with the people you care about
It can be a struggle to maintain your social life after a stroke, especially when you’re focused on rehabilitation and recovery. Since stroke affects your brain, you may feel angry or irritable.
But social connections are essential to your health so be sure to prioritize them. If your mobility is limited, try reaching out to friends on the phone or inviting them over. If you’re able, plan outings and visits with people you care about. Joining groups with people who share your interests can also make a difference—you can go to movies, concerts or sporting events together.
The bottom line
Having a stroke is a life-changing event—it affects you physically, mentally and emotionally. Making healthy changes to your exercise, diet, stress, social and sleep habits can help you cope and reduce your odds of having another stroke.