The link between heart and brain health

Heart and brain healthFebruary brings American Heart Month, but did you know a healthy heart promotes a healthy brain, too?

According to the American Heart Association, following a heart-healthy lifestyle not only reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke, it can also reduce your risk for cognitive decline. Recent studies have shown that the risk factors that contribute to heart disease and stroke—including physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol—also contribute to dementia, Alzheimer’s, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a long-term study of 1,500 adults found that those who had high cholesterol and high blood pressure had six times the risk for dementia.

Why would risk factors for heart disease also increase the risk for cognitive decline? Because those risk factors can cause the blood vessels to narrow, subsequently reducing blood flow to the brain. Reduced blood flow to the brain causes the brain to malfunction, leading to problems with thinking, memory, directions and more.

What this means is that you can reduce your risk for cognitive decline or slow its progression by adopting habits that promote heart health. Exercise regularly, aiming for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Maintain a balanced diet incorporating brain-fuelling foods, including fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, whole grain and fiber, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Dark-skinned fruits and vegetables—such as raisins, oranges, red grapes, berries, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts and more—generally have the highest level of antioxidants. Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy products and foods with little to no trans and saturated fats, added sugars or sodium.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet will also help you manage diabetes if you have it and maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels, all risk factors for heart disease (and subsequently, cognitive decline). Be particularly vigilante when it comes to your blood pressure, as it’s the biggest risk factor for stroke and one of the strongest predictors of brain health. High blood pressure typically has no symptoms, so check your levels regularly. Adopting these healthy habits should help keep your heart and brain in the best shape possible.

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