How a Healthy Heart Can Help You Stay Sharp

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How a Healthy Heart Can Help You Stay Sharp

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healthy-heartWhat does your heart have to do with memory care? Well, according to the American Heart Association, there is a connection between the two.

The relationship between heart health and memory has been widely researched over the last few years and studies suggest that there are overlapping risk factors for cardiovascular disease and memory decline. Take a look at these cardiovascular and brain health facts and consider how improving your cardiovascular health might lower your risk of dementia and, specifically, Alzheimer’s disease.

A Little Bit about Heart Disease

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 600,000 people die each year from heart disease, an umbrella term for a number of conditions that affect the cardiovascular system, but on that is often associated with atherosclerosis.

A person with atherosclerosis has plaque built up on the walls of the arteries. This narrows the diameter of an artery, restricting blood flow. When blood flow to the heart slows or stops completely, you have a heart attack. When it is cut off to the brain, you have a stroke.

The Connection between the Brain and Heart Health

Research shows that people at risk for heart disease due to high blood pressure or cholesterol may potentially develop memory problems as they get older. Studies have found that as little as 10% higher risk of cardiovascular disease can lead to cognitive problems. Memory decline can start as early as middle age, explains Sara Kaffashian from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

What are the Risk Factors?

Risk factors for heart disease are broken down based on significance.

Major risk factors include:

  • Heredity
  • Age
  • Gender (It is more common in men)
  • Race (African Americans have a higher risk of blood pressure problems)
  • Smoking
  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes

Contributing factors are things you do that might elevate the risk. These include:

  • Stress
  • Alcohol usage
  • Poor diet

The risk factors for dementia are very similar.

  • Alcohol use
  • High or low blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Age
  • Heredity

In fact, there is such overlap between the two that the Mayo Clinic also lists atherosclerosis as a major factor in memory loss. The buildup of plaque in arteries going to the brain increases the risk of stroke and vascular dementia.

How Seniors Can Improve Their Heart Health

Being older doesn’t mean that it is too late to start taking better care of your heart. And it all starts with physical activity. Talk to your doctor first, though, to make sure your heart is healthy enough for exercise. A simple 10 minute walk three times a day is enough to improve your cardiac health. Add some basic strength training to your fitness plan, as well.

Changing Your Diet Is a Practical Approach to Better Heart Health

  • Buy colorful fruits and green vegetables. This increases the nutrients in your diet and adds more fiber. Make sure to eat at least five servings of fruits or vegetables each day for maximum benefit.
  • Cut back on the fat. If you enjoy dairy, stick with the low fat products like skim milk, for example, and buy lean meats with little visible fat.
  • Increase the amount of fiber in your diet. Eating foods that are naturally high in fiber, like whole grains, can be helpful in lowering blood cholesterol and maintaining a healthy weight.

Protect Your Memory

Of course, there are other steps involved in memory care besides maintaining good cardiac health. Activities such as doing puzzles and reading will stimulate the brain to enhance your memory. Maintaining social connections helps, as well. Find ways to stay social like playing cards with friends or joining a book club.

Between taking care of your heart and enhancing your memory care, you will improve your odds of avoiding Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

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Bryan Reynolds
February 12, 2015
Bryan Reynolds is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Bryan is responsible for developing and implementing ERS' digital marketing strategy, and overseeing the website, social media outlets, audio and video content and online advertising. After originally attending The Ohio State University, he graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of fine arts focused on electronic media. Bryan loves to share his passion for technology by assisting older adults with their computer and mobile devices. He has taught several classes within ERS communities as well as at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute run by the University of Cincinnati. He also participates on the Technology Team at ERS to help provide direction. Bryan and his wife Krista currently reside in Lebanon, Ohio with their 5 children.

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