Practice Good Strokes to Prevent the Bad Ones

by Chrissie Kaufmann on behalf of the YMCA of Greater Michiana

In the United States, strokes are currently the fourth leading cause of death for women and the fifth for men. Those who survive a stroke often suffer losses in speech, movement and/or cognition. And strokes don’t just happen to older people; they can strike anyone, of any age, at any time. Just ask Olympic track-and-field gold medalist Michael Johnson about relearning to walk after a stroke in 2018.

Thankfully, there are major stroke risk factors that we can control and telltale signs that we can learn to recognize. Since May is National Stroke Awareness Month, let’s invest a few minutes on this life-saving topic.

What is a stroke? In general, blood carries oxygen to our brains to keep them alive and functioning. During an ischemic stroke, by far the most common kind, a blocked artery prevents adequate blood flow to the brain. An average of 1.9 million brain cells can die per minute in this dangerous and deadly situation. Therefore the faster we receive treatment, the better our chances of survival and the lesser the damage done.

Since every second counts, remember the acronym F.A.S.T. to recognize and respond to stroke symptoms. If we see only one, we should still call 911.

  • F – Face drooping: Ask the person to smile. Is the smile lopsided? If so, call 911 immediately.
  • A – Arm weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one drift downward? If so, call 911.
  • S – Speech slurred: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Are they unable to speak or do they garble the words? Call 911.
  • T – Time: Note the time the symptom(s) started. Even if the symptom(s) disappear, call 911. Remember, immediate emergency care can significantly improve a person’s recovery.

Other signs of stroke include numbness or paralysis in parts of the body; vision that is blurred, blackened or doubled; headaches that are sudden or severe; trouble walking, and loss of balance.

The good news is that we can greatly reduce our chances of having a stroke by controlling a few major risk factors. The biggest preventable cause of stroke is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. To maintain or achieve a healthy blood pressure, we should engage in regular physical activity, or what I am going to call “good strokes.” 

“Good strokes” can be pedal strokes in cycling, swimming strokes in the pool, and even rowing strokes on a row machine (or in a real boat!). In fact, any kind of movement that raises our heart rates will strengthen our cardiovascular system and improve our blood pressure. May is also National Bike Month, the perfect time to hope on a bicycle and enjoy our late but beautiful spring.

Practicing “good strokes” can also take (or keep) inches off our waistline, which also substantially lowers our blood pressure. In fact, obesity is another stroke risk factor in itself. By losing just 10 pounds, we can significantly reduce our “bad stroke” risk.

Let’s share this information with the people we love, no matter what their age. Let’s invite someone to practice some “good strokes” with us this coming week, so we can enjoy getting healthier together. To learn more about stroke risk factors, prevention and recovery, visit the website of the American Stroke Association at

May 18th, 2022