You know taking care of your heart keeps you physically healthy, but it may also help your brain.
Taking care of your heart is good for your overall physical wellbeing. But did you know it may also keep your mind sharp as you age? A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that people with fewer cardiovascular risk factors were less likely to suffer from dementia.
Sponsored by the Rush Memory and Aging Project at Rush University, the study followed more than 1,500 subjects with a mean age of 79.5 years who had not been previously diagnosed with dementia over a 21-year period. Participants were graded on a number of cognitive behaviors, such as short- and long-term memory, ability to compare numbers and patterns, and identification of visual and spatial relationships between objects. The cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk level of each participant was assessed, as well.
Researchers found those higher up on the CVD risk scale were more at risk for impaired memory and inability to recognize patterns as they aged. Those in that category also showed a smaller volume in the part of the brain that controls memory and language. Although no definitive link was found between poor heart health and dementia, the study supports the theory that a robust cardiovascular system may play an important role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease, which affects some 5 million Americans aged 65 or older.
Healthy Heart = Healthy Mind
The study doesn’t speculate on why a healthy heart is linked to dementia prevention. One researcher said it could be because good cardiovascular habits, such as not smoking, eating well, and exercising, also support cognitive health.
Given the study’s findings, it may be a good time to review your cardiovascular fitness as measured by a number of significant health markers, such as elevated blood pressure, high bad cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. To maintain a strong heart — and possibly a healthy brain — follow these three heart-health boosters:
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet. A heart-healthy diet revolves around meals based on foods that sustain cardiovascular vitality. This would include lean chicken and omega-3 fatty acid-packed fish like salmon, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, low-fat dairy products, and non-tropical vegetable oils. On the other hand, foods high in sodium, sugar, saturated fats, and calories sap your heart of its strength and provide little nutritional value.
Be More Active. Even a moderate amount of exercise strengthens the heart muscle. To keep your heart in good shape, aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of more intense workouts. You can alternate between moderate (brisk walking, gardening, and tennis) and vigorous exercise like running and swimming during the week. Not only does regular exercise peel off the pounds, it helps prevent chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension that directly affect the heart.
Quit Smoking. Cigarettes contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals that lead to plaque build-up in arteries and blood vessels, which greatly constricts blood flow and contributes to peripheral vascular disease, a dangerous narrowing of the arteries in the extremities. Other negative effects of heavy smoking include high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat. So if you want to maintain your heart health as you age, quit smoking now. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs that will help you cut the cigarette habit for good.
The rise of dementia-related illnesses is nearing a crisis level in the U.S., and an effective treatment has yet to be found. Yet this study suggests we may have the power to prevent dementia by maintaining our heart health as we grow older. To ensure a healthy heart and brain in your golden years, start by maintaining your heart health now.
Time for a Heart Checkup
The physicians at Tri-City Cardiology offer a full array of cardiovascular services from diagnostics to treatments. We’ll recommend and supervise therapies to maintain and strengthen your heart — which may also boost your brain function. Contact us today for an appointment.