You know what they say, ‘what’s good for the heart is good for the brain’. Ok, it might not actually be a saying but maybe it should be. There is increasing information that steps to prevent heart disease may also prevent or slow dementia.
A rising public epidemic is railing brain health. In a person’s 20s, the brain naturally starts showing signs of cognitive decline and an estimated 3 out of 5 Americans will, in their lifetime, have some type of brain disease. However, the rate of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and stroke cases seems to be increasing and by 2030, these conditions are expected to exceed 1 trillion dollars.
There have been a number of studies that show that factors that affect heart and vessel health also affect the brain. Considering the brain uses 20% of the body’s oxygen and is surrounded by hundreds of vessels, it makes sense that poor cardiovascular health would, in turn, affect the brain’s health.
There are overlapping risk factors for both cardiovascular disease (CVD) and dementia. A few include type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and especially high blood pressure. These can have some effect on the vessels in the brain, cause the brain to shrink at a faster rate, cause changes to white matter, or lead to a stroke. In fact, according to Ralph Sacco, M.D., chief of neurology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami and past president of the American Heart Association (also the first neurologist to be president of the AHA), high blood pressure is the “strongest predictor of brain health.” Some research indicates that the presence of these risk factors in middle age may have a greater effect on brain health than if they were in old age, however, specifics as to why are yet to be determined.
The American Heart Association has developed a system called Life’s Simple 7 as a means to keep a person’s health in check.
- Blood Pressure Management
- Cholesterol Control
- Blood Sugar Regulation
- Being Active
- Eating Balanced
- Weight Loss
- Quit Smoking
Some studies have followed participants following this guideline for many years (30 years in some cases) to see how their health progressed. They awarded how well a person abided by each guideline with points between 0-2 and researchers found that every point missed seemed to correspond with about a year’s worth of age-related brain shrinkage. Similarly, other researchers found that with each increase of a point, the participant’s risk for heart failure was lowered by 23%. The research, however, does have some limitations and requires more data.
The earlier a person takes their health seriously the better, but starting now is better than never starting at all. Take steps and actions to take control of your health. Assess your health and speak with a physician if you have any questions or concerns. Simple actions can go a long way such as taking daily walks, incorporating more vegetables, or cutting out something high in sugar. A healthy heart can lead to a healthy brain, which could lead to a multitude of other positive life and body changes. Take charge of your health today!