As we start what’s been known since 1989 as National Stroke Awareness Month (May), Houston physical therapist Lisa Battles 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 Battles of Aquatic Care Programs. “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 Battles. “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, Battles says, can help lower blood pressure, maintain a healthful weight, improve energy and mood, and yes, reduce the chances of suffering a stroke.

Should someone have the misfortune of experiencing a stroke, however, Battles 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.

Aquatic Care Programs is uniquely qualified to assist patients in prevention and recovery from stroke in that the aquatic environment allows for more intense exercise without the associated increase in blood pressure. The aquatic environment also allows for decreased impact on joints for those patients suffering from back or leg injuries as well as a safe environment to regain their ability to walk and improve balance without risks of suffering an injury from a fall.

“This is the part of my profession most people think about when they think of physical therapy,” Battles 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 healthful) lifestyle or from maintaining a regular exercise routine, Battles says the physical therapy team at Aquatic Care Programs can assess your difficulties and help you overcome these obstacles.