Keeping Our Brains Sharp, 9 Simple Ways
The several steps we use to keep our hearts healthy may also help to keep our brain sharp into old age, too.
“What’s good for your heart is also good for your brain,” Dr. Gary Small says.
The American Heart Association recently outlined what the organization calls “Life’s Simple 7,” a series of healthy habits that not only promote cardiovascular health, but also may help reduce the risk of dementia caused by strokes, vascular dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
This new initiative underscores the point that lifestyle changes can protect the brain from even the most dreaded of diseases, says Small, director of the University of California-Los Angeles Longevity Center.
A healthy brain is defined as one that can pay attention, receive and recognize information from our senses; learn and remember; communicate; solve problems and make decisions; support mobility and regulate emotions, says the AHA. Cognitive impairment can affect all of those functions.
The advisory, published in the September issue of AHA’s journal Stroke, is based on the findings of 182 studies.
Experts have known that people with coronary heart disease have an increased probability of suffering a major brain-damaging stroke. But this newer research also shows that it ratchets up the risk for mini strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders,” the AHA’s advisory says.
Some of the steps the AHA recommend work together. For instance, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar increases can damage both large and small vessels in the body.
Those in the neurology community have long subscribed to this belief, says Dr. Small
Here are the AHA’s 7 Simple Steps are as follows:
Manage blood pressure: High blood pressure, which affects about one in three US adults, damages blood vessels, which supply oxygen, and nutrients to the heart and the brain. This condition also raises the risk of atrial fibrillation, which steeply elevates stroke risk.
Control cholesterol: Elevated bad cholesterol can form deposits on the brain’s blood vessels. This can cut off blood flow, and result in a vascular stroke, which can lead to dementia.
Keep blood sugar normal: High blood sugar (glucose) increases diabetes risk. People with diabetes are unable to properly utilize the hormone insulin, which transports blood to the brain, says Small. Glucose is the brain’s Key fuel source and if the brain cannot get it, it isn’t going to function well.
Get physically active: Chronic bodily inflammation damages the brain’s neurons. Exercise is anti-inflammatory and also stimulates the neurons to sprout branches, which makes the brain function better.
Eat a healthy diet: Eating a diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits provides antioxidants, which help protect the brain from the damage of aging. Fish and nuts, for instance, contain omega 3 fatty acids, which protect the brain from inflammation.
Lose extra weight: Carrying excess poundage, especially in the abdomen, results in chronic bodily inflammation. “There are also some very interesting findings showing that, when people under weight-loss surgery, their memories improve,” Dr. Small says.
Do not start smoking or quit. Smoking damages the blood vessels in the brain and steeply hikes stroke risk.
While Dr. Small says the AHA’s recommendations are excellent, he would add an 8th step: stress management,
“Managing stress is important. Stress is the enemy of memory, and if you are stressed out, you won’t remember well, so people should add meditation, tai chi, or some other stress-reducing practice to their program,” adds Dr. Small.
I believe he and the AHA are right, and I will add mine, the 9th; Keep learning. A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively
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