In the 90s, actor Luke Perry captured the hearts of millions when he played heartthrob Dylan McKay on TV’s 90210. In March 2019, he broke those same hearts when he suffered a massive stroke and passed away five days later.
Many wouldn’t consider Perry, just 52 years old at the time of his death, a high stroke risk. After all, it’s a condition usually associated with the elderly. But life-changing — and potentially fatal — strokes can happen to anyone, at any time. In fact, there’s evidence that suggests that stroke rates are increasing among young people — including young adults and children.
Strokes have become so common that they’re now the leading cause of disability among Americans — costing the United States more than $30 billion yearly in healthcare services, medications, and missed work. That’s the bad news. The good news is that modifiable risk factors make up 88% of stroke risk. That means the same lifestyle changes that can make dramatic changes to our overall health can also drastically reduce our stroke risk. Many of these changes can even get started in the workplace. Here are four ways you can help your employees reduce their risk of stroke.
1. Reduce Blood Pressure
High blood pressure accounts for more than half of strokes, thanks to the constant stress hypertension puts on arteries. Over time, the high-pressure damages and weakens the arteries — sometimes causing the arteries to burst (leading to hemorrhagic strokes) or become blocked (resulting in ischemic strokes).
When employees talk about the things that cause stress levels and blood pressure to soar, work pressures often top the list. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Teach employees relaxation techniques such as guided meditation and focused breathing, while also paying close attention to how your company manages its employees to ensure workloads and expectations are reasonable and fair. It’s also worth setting a good example by encouraging (and taking) regular breaks and promoting good nutrition in the workplace.
2. Quit Smoking
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for the lungs, but you might not know how bad it is for the cardiovascular system. Not only are smokers (who smoke ≥ 20 cigarettes daily) six times more likely than a nonsmoker to have a stroke, but smokers are also twice as likely to die from a stroke.
Luckily, these risks are reversible. Oxygen levels return to normal eight hours after a smoker’s last cigarette, and after 15 years of a person being smoke-free, their stroke risk declines to the same levels as someone who has never smoked.
Starting a tobacco cessation program as part of a larger corporate wellness program is one way to give employees the support and resources they need to get their health back on track. Offering employees a customized program that includes support groups, one-on-one health coaching, and customized quit plans can dramatically increase an employee’s chances for success.
You might wonder about the ROI for smoking cessation, but consider this: Each smoker costs employers an extra $3,077 per year in lost productivity and absenteeism, and the healthcare costs for smokers can average more than $2,000 higher than those of nonsmokers.
Know These Stroke Symptoms
Knowing the F.A.S.T. stroke warning signs from the American Stroke Association can help you save a life.
F: Face Drooping
Is the person’s smile lopsided or drooping? Is part of their face numb?
A: Arm Weakness
Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one drift down? Do they report weakness or numbing in the arm?
Is the person’s speech slurred? Are they having trouble speaking, and are you having trouble understanding them? Can they repeat a simple sentence back to you?
T: Time to Call 911
If a person exhibits any of these symptoms — even if they disappear — call 911 or get them to a hospital immediately.
Of course, these aren’t the only signs of a stroke. If a person reports sudden trouble seeing or walking, has a sudden severe headache, or exhibits signs of confusion, they may be experiencing a stroke.
Treatment administered within three hours of a stroke greatly improves the chances of recovery, so take action immediately if you or someone you know is exhibiting any of these symptoms.
3. Start Moving
If it sounds like exercise can cure just about whatever ails you, you’re right. Not only does regular, moderate exercise lift your mood and increase energy, it can reduce stroke risk by nearly 30%.
This doesn’t mean employees need to start marathon training to reap the benefits. Just performing simple strength training is enough to start to lower the risk of stroke (and heart attack, too), as is engaging in light to moderate cardiovascular exercise. Encourage employees to get that heart rate up by taking 15 minutes once or twice a day to walk outside around the office. You can also offer lunchtime exercise classes — like yoga or interval training — to get the body moving. Some employers even work with local gyms to offer discount packages that employees can use outside the workplace.
4. Get Just Enough Sleep
Employees who sleep between seven and eight hours nightly are 25% less likely than others to suffer a stroke. Those who logged fewer than seven hours were 22% more likely to have a stroke, while those getting more than eight hours of sleep are an astonishing 146% more likely to have suffered a stroke.
Unfortunately, the relationship between sleep and strokes isn’t yet clear enough for researchers to say whether the link is causative or correlative. Those who skimp on sleep might simply be too tired to make good lifestyle choices like going to the gym and cooking healthy meals. But, without enough restorative sleep, stress hormones rise and arteries stiffen — factors that raise stroke risk. And those who are spending too much time in bed might be doing so because they’re battling obesity or depression, but that extra time in bed may also prevent them from having enough time to exercise. Either way, it’s something for employees to be aware of.
To foster a good night’s sleep, encourage employees to leave work at work whenever possible — which means letting them know it’s OK to not respond to business-related emails outside of working hours or while on vacation.
While strokes may seem to strike out of the blue, like Perry’s did, they’re often the culmination of a lifetime of questionable health habits. But that doesn’t mean an employee can’t turn things around. Sometimes, they just need the right tools and support to take a step in the right direction. And through a robust wellness program, employees can take control of their stroke risk, and employers can reap the benefits of a happier, healthier employee population.