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December 28, 2010 > New Year, New Plan

New Year, New Plan

Free Seminar Provides Individualized Action Plans for Implementing a Healthy Lifestyle

Too many of the major killers in the United States-diabetes, heart disease, stroke-have little to no warning before they strike.

To underscore this lack of warning that health conditions like stroke give their victims, Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program offers the following analogy that he heard from a physician colleague.

"Imagine you have a brand new car, but there's no gas gauge on the car," Van Houten relates. "You're driving along and there's no problem until you've used up all the gas and the car stops. Only then do you realize you've got a problem."

"It's the same idea with undiagnosed high blood pressure and high blood sugar, both of which can contribute to stroke or heart attack. At this point, all you can only say is, 'Gee, if I had only known.'"

Prevention is possible

Van Houten's advice is simple: don't let the car-or your body-run out of gas. Instead, take control and change your lifestyle to prevent health conditions like heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

On Tuesday, January 4, from 6 to 8 p.m., Van Houten and a physician from Washington Hospital's Stroke Program will present a free seminar focusing on stroke prevention and healthy lifestyle.

"According to the National Stroke Association (NSA) and the other stroke organizations, stroke is 80 percent preventable if you can just manage the lifestyle issues well enough," Van Houten points out. "When you can prevent something 80 percent of the time, that's huge. And healthy lifestyle changes don't just help you prevent stroke, they also help prevent diabetes, kidney failure, heart attack and even cancer. If people can identify what's going on in their own bodies, then they can make changes."

With 2011 just around the corner, Van Houten says now is a great time to start making resolutions, and the stroke seminar on January 4 can help with some clear-cut goals for better health.

An action plan for health

"During the healthy lifestyle portion of our talk, I'll be handing performance improvement plans that can be personalized according to each person's lifestyle and health history," he says. "We teach people all these different elements during the Free Stroke Education Series, but in reality people need specific action items that they know they have to accomplish in order to make progress. The performance improvement plan lists habits and behaviors that increase the risk for stroke and also provides specific goals and actions that lead to a healthier lifestyle."

The good news is that lifestyle changes don't take any fancy technology, Van Houten says. Instead lasting change comes from a little mathematical equation he has made up: Knowledge + Motivation + Creativity = Change.

For example, he says, a person may not realize that for every two pounds he loses he can reduce high blood pressure-a major risk factor for stroke-by a point. With this knowledge, he may seek to change his diet and start exercising.

The performance improvement plan Van Houten will distribute at the upcoming seminar will help audience members decide on goals and what changes they need to make to reach them and he will add in the creative solutions to sustain these changes.

"This seminar is in the first week in the year, which is a good time to turn over a new leaf and say, 'I'm going to make some changes in my life so I don't go down the wrong road,'" according to Van Houten. "In this day and age, we're into this idea of immediate gratification. For instance, if you stop smoking-another major risk factor for stroke-you're not getting any immediate gratification. Instead, after a long, healthy life, you can look back and say you never had a stroke."

No better time than the present

To prevent risk factors for stroke before they become a problem, there's no better time than the present to make changes. This is especially true of diabetes, which can be prevented and even reversed if caught early enough.

"There's a reason type 2 diabetes has reached an epidemic proportion," he points out. "Twenty years ago there was nowhere near the diabetes as there is now. Today the population in this country is heavier as a whole and we're sicker because of it. But there are specific measures you can take, including eating properly, getting weight under control and exercising regularly, that can turn things around so that you don't develop diabetes, which is associated with 50 to 60 percent of stroke and heart attacks."

Making changes to long-held habits can seem hard at first, but Van Houten promises the long-term payout far exceeds the effort you put in now.

"Many people I've heard from say they're not afraid of dying from stroke, they're afraid of living with it," he says.

People's fears of stroke are not without reason. After all, the statistics from the NSA are grim:
* Only 10 percent of stroke survivors recover almost completely
* 25 percent recover with minor impairments
* 40 percent experience moderate to severe impairments requiring special care
* 10 percent require care in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
* 15 percent die shortly after the stroke

"Working in stroke care, I would much, much rather be able to prevent strokes than to treat them," Van Houten concludes.

Learn More About Stroke Prevention

To hear more about stroke prevention and healthy lifestyle changes, mark your calendar for the upcoming Free Stroke Education Series seminar on Tuesday, Jan. 4, from 6 to 8 p.m., which will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, Washington West.

To register, call (800) 963-7070 or visit

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