When it comes to good lifestyle habits that can help prevent heart disease, it’s common knowledge that eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol are key. But preventing heart disease isn’t the only reason to adopt these healthy habits. The choices you make every day can have an affect not only your heart, but also your head.
There is evidence that the health of the blood vessels in your brain is closely linked to your overall heart health. The Alzheimer’s Association 2020 fact sheet states, “although it makes up just 2 percent of body weight, the brain consumes 20 percent of the body’s oxygen and energy supplies. Having a healthy heart ensures that enough blood is pumped to the brain, and healthy blood vessels enable oxygen and nutrient‐rich blood to reach the brain so it can function normally.”
Cardiovascular disease and vascular dementia share common risk factors such as obesity, smoking diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Dementia often starts as mild cognitive impairment, which is marked by subtle but measurable changes in memory and thinking skills. Scientists are still researching the causes of dementia, but having unhealthy arteries seems to contribute to both heart disease and cognitive problems. Although age is the strongest risk factor for developing vascular dementia, lifestyle factors play a bigger role than you may think.
According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology adults with heart disease are at higher risk for faster cognitive decline in the long-term. Having a stroke, diabetes or heart disease can significantly increase your likelihood of developing vascular dementia. The good news is that reducing your risk for both heart disease and dementia is a two for one special. Keep your heart and brain health in check by taking the following steps:
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure
- Prevent or control diabetes
- Quit smoking. Smoking tobacco damages blood vessels everywhere in your body.
- Get active with regular exercise
- Keep your cholesterol in check. A healthy, low-fat diet and cholesterol lowering medication if you need them may reduce your risk of strokes and heart attacks that could lead to vascular dementia.
“Heart health and brain health have many overlapping characteristics,” says David Shenouda, DO, cardiologist. “A common misconception is that some cholesterol lowering medications like statins may increase the risk for dementia, however research shows us the opposite. These medications can help to stave off dementia and more specifically vascular dementia,” Shenouda says.
It’s never too late to make positive changes and take control of your health. Your head and your heart will thank you.