Four years ago, I retired my scalpel and made the switch from neurosurgeon to entrepreneur. I traded the operating room for meeting rooms, patient charts for business proposals and long nights for . . . well, long nights.
Related: Working Long Hours Could Kill You
As entrepreneurs, we’re so often focused on trying to make sure our company succeeds that our personal health is relegated to a back burner. Fast food becomes our main food group, exercise falls to the wayside and sugar-filled energy drinks become a replacement for sleep. Admittedly, I found myself guilty of some of these health sins, too.
However, not only are these lifestyle changes unsustainable for your health in the long run, they can also lead to a dangerous stroke, which occurs when the blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. As a neurosurgeon, I find this to be an issue near and dear to my heart. Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States and is also the leading cause for adult disability.
Yet, people are generally uninformed about this serious problem in our midst. According to the American Stroke Association/Ad Council Stroke Awareness Continuous Tracking Study, only 8 percent of those surveyed could identify each letter in F.A.S.T., an acronym listing the most common stroke warning signs: face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty, plus the urgent advice: time to call 911.
Although many risk factors for stroke, such as age, family history and gender, can’t be changed, many stroke risk factors are controllable. In fact, 80 percent of all stroke cases are preventable. Here are my top four health tips to prevent having a stroke as you build your business:
1. Take walking meetings.
Rather than stay cooped up in a conference room, schedule walking meetings instead. Research shows that walking meetings tend to be more productive, as “our brains are more relaxed during walks.” They also facilitate more honest exchanges that “lead to better employee engagement by breaking down barriers between supervisor and subordinate or between coworkers.”
Plus, there’s the added bonus of incorporating physical activity into your day, helping you maintain a healthy weight and lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. For adults, the Surgeon General recommends 150 minutes of exercise each week. By turning a meeting a day into a walking meeting, you’ll reach the recommended amount in no time.
2. Ditch fast (and processed) food.
Entrepreneurs live in a fast-paced world, and I know I’m not alone when I say I’m usually more concerned about convenience and speed than nutritional value when I weigh my food options. Eating foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium, yet high in fiber, can help prevent high cholesterol and blood pressure.
There are easy ways to facilitate healthy eating: For example, set aside time on Sunday to prep your meals for the week, or use one of the many healthy food services. I've found that by having healthy options, such as sliced fruit and vegetables, smoothies or grilled chicken ready to go, I’m less likely to reach for fast food, and choose real food instead.
3. Get enough sleep.
We’ve all been there: burning the midnight oil in order to meet a deadline or prep for an important meeting with investors. However, growing evidence has shown that sufficient sleep, in conjunction with a healthy diet and consistent physical activity, is directly related to a decrease in stroke risk.
Researchers found that among almost 300,000 U.S. adults studied, those who routinely slept seven to eight hours a night were 25 percent less likely to have a stroke, compared to those who got either less or more sleep.
In fact, even one extra hour of sleep can make a huge difference, as a BBC study found. That extra hour can make you less forgetful and more mentally agile.
Moreover, genes associated with processes such as inflammation and immune response; and responses to stress, diabetes and risk of cancer were found to become more active for those who slept an hour less.
4. Keep track of your health.
The American Heart Association encourages consumers to know their heart numbers. You can use devices like MOCAheart to keep tabs on your heart rate, blood oxygen level and overall cardiovascular health. Keeping track of these numbers helps you spot the early warning signs of serious conditions like heart disease and a potential heart attack. And if you’re healthy, they give you a good basis to compare yourself now, against future checkups.
Overall, a lot of entrepreneurs, myself included, are overworked and neglect the return on investment of their bodies. According to the American Heart Association, nearly 800,000 Americans each year suffer a new or recurrent stroke. That means that, on average, someone experiences a stroke every 40 seconds.
Your company is important, but at what cost? Stroke kills more than 130,000 people a year, and 80 percent of those cases could have been prevented -- so put your health first, and don’t be a statistic.