As we start what’s been known since 1989 as National Stroke Awareness Month (May), Portage physical therapist Kristina Hellenbrand is eager to point out that stroke is a medical emergency that’s highly preventable, and that movement and exercise are keys to such prevention.
“As is true with so many conditions and ailments, getting out and living an active life can go a long way toward preventing stroke, which touches so many people across the country,” said Hellenbrand, physical therapist of New Life Physical Therapy in Portage, Baraboo and Westfield. “In fact, so many of the consequences of living a more sedentary lifestyle – weight gain, high blood pressure and an inconsistent exercise regimen – can vastly increase your chances of experiencing a stroke at some point in your life.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 800,000 people suffer strokes in the U.S. each year – about one stroke every 40 seconds. Stroke is also the No. 1 cause of serious, long-term disability in the U.S.
Up to 80 percent of stroke emergencies, however, can be prevented, says the American Stroke Association.
“Our bodies are made to be used — to be challenged and exercised — and stroke is one of the unfortunate results of lifestyles that lean more toward being inactive,” said Hellenbrand. “This isn’t always the case as diet, smoking and genetics can play a role, as well. But as medical leaders in optimal movement, we as physical therapists are always eager to point out the many ways movement and exercise can improve lives and help prevent such major medical emergencies as stroke.”
The Mayo Clinic suggests all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week, along with regular strength training. Such regular exercise, Hellenbrand says, can help lower blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, improve energy and mood, and yes, reduce the chances of suffering a stroke.
Should someone have the misfortune of experiencing a stroke, however, Hellenbrand says that physical therapy is essential in helping sufferers restore movement, lesson their disability and improve their quality of lives. By working with patients to improve balance and retraining motor skills, a physical therapist can help them maintain a higher level of independence and regain a sense of normalcy.
“This is the part of my profession most people think about when they think of physical therapy,” Hellenbrand said. “But often, our focus is on prevention – getting people to where they need to be in life in order to live well and be more proactive in staying healthy and injury free.”
In this spirit, if pain or injury is keeping you from leading an active (and healthy) lifestyle or from maintaining a regular exercise routine, Hellenbrand says the physical therapy team at New Life Physical Therapy can assess your difficulties and help you overcome these obstacles.