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How Heart Health is Linked to Brain Health

So often in western medicine, we view our health in silos. We see our allergist for allergies, a different specialist for sinus issues, and we try to exercise and avoid fried foods for our heart health, as prescribed by our general practitioner. However, science is increasingly showing us that the different systems of the body are interconnected. For example, recent studies are suggesting that there is a clear connection between heart health and brain health.

The Connection Between Heart Health and Brain Health

A decades-long study recently published in Neurology suggests that women with strong cardiovascular health at midlife are less likely to develop dementia as they age. For the study, researchers asked 191 middle-aged women to ride an exercise bike until they were exhausted. They then grouped the women according to their peak cardiovascular capacity. Just 40 women met the criteria for high fitness, while 92 were in the medium category, and 59 were in the low category.

Over the following 44 years, the women were tested for dementia six times. These tests ultimately showed that highly fit women were 88 percent less likely to develop dementia than even the moderately fit women.

While this study doesn’t prove causality, the results show an exciting correlation between heart health and brain health.

Risks of Poor Heart Health

Those who exercise for heart health know that they aren’t just working to avoid heart attacks – cardiovascular disease can also lead to a stroke: a dangerous occurrence where blood flow is cut off from the brain . Strokes are essentially caused by the same factors that cause heart attacks, the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis) and the stiffening of arteries with age (arteriosclerosis). When your arteries don’t work properly or become blocked, blood flow may stop to your brain, causing a stroke, or to your heart, causing a heart attack.

Maintaining healthy arteries ensures that both your heart and your brain benefit from a continuous supply of oxygen-rich blood to nourish your cells. It makes sense that healthy blood flow to these areas of the body will ward off aging and disease.

Improve Your Heart Health to Decrease Stroke and Dementia Risk

The great news is that we know a lot about heart health. Scientists now believe reducing major cardiovascular risks is a key step toward maintaining your cognitive abilities and reducing risk of stroke.

Reduce your cardiovascular risks by:

  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Quitting smoking
  • Managing your blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Keeping blood pressure within a healthy range

People who follow those guidelines benefit in a myriad of ways. They have higher energy from a stronger heart. They may also stimulate the repair of micro-injuries in the white matter of the brain. The presence of these lesions can slow thinking and hasten the loss of cognitive function that accompanies dementia.

These findings and recommendations show that focusing on the fundamentals of heart health is a 2-for-1, helping us to avoid both cardiovascular and neurological decline as we age.

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