Nearly 800,000 Americans get stroke every year. Stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted; if the interruption lasts more than a few seconds it can cause permanent damage to brain functions, or even death—stroke is the fourth most common cause of death in the United States. The major symptoms are drooping on one side of the face (most obvious if the person is trying to smile), slurred speech, and difficulty raising their arms. Someone having a stroke may also have seizures, fainting, or blurred vision.
When someone is having a stroke, treatment must be started immediately, which means prevention is a much more useful strategy for addressing stroke danger than hoping it can be treated in time after the fact. State of mind and mental health have a lot to do with stroke risk. In one study, high-anxiety people were found to be a third more likely to suffer stroke than people with more normal anxiety levels. Anxiety is associated with high blood pressure, and bringing down blood pressure is a pillar of stroke prevention. Smokers who quit, for example, are less likely to suffer stroke because they are less likely to have chronic hypertension. Maintaining a healthy diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables and avoiding saturated fats, can also lower stroke risk.
Another way people can get their blood pressure under control is sunlight. In one study, people who live in sunny areas were found to have a lower stroke risk than people in darker parts of the world. The study used models developed by NASA to determine the sunniest places to lie, considering latitude and longitude, air quality, cloudiness, and other factors. More recent research has confirmed the connection, showing that vitamin D is so important to healthy blood pressure levels that for people with severe chronic hypertension, the increased risk of skin cancer from more UV exposure may be more than offset by the beneficial blood pressure effects.
Research is also spurring advances in stroke recovery. Core stabilization exercises are used by stroke patients to help them relearn how to walk and move independently. Scientists found that real-time video feedback, which allows these patients to monitor their own movements as they are making them, helps facilitate this relearning process. In a different study, doctors used motion capture technology, used for virtual costume computer effects in movies, to assess patients’ movement function, in order to focus treatment.