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Oct 16, 2017

A Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Helps Keep the Mind Intact

Experts provide simple yet effective strategies for protecting cognitive health as we age.

A healthy lifestyle is one of best ways to keep the mind intact as we age, according to a recent advisory on brain health released by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, this advisory reviewed the latest evidence on maintaining brain health in older age. The goal was to provide clear strategies for protecting cognitive health and preventing conditions such as stroke and dementia, which have become increasingly common as life expectancy increases.

What it boils down to, as outlined in the recent advisory, is that maintaining a healthy lifestyle, keeping the mind engaged and having social support are critical to staying sharp in old age.

When it comes to health, authors explain that seven simple metrics have a big impact on cognitive function later in life. These metrics are outlined by the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple Seven” list, which include exercise, not smoking, eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight, and maintaining a healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. These simple metrics have been shown to prevent heart disease and promote better brain function later in life. Authors note that it’s important to start these healthy lifestyle choices as early as possible to pave the way for a sharper future.

However, it’s not just physical health that plays a role in cognitive function as we age. According to authors, participating in challenging mental activities and staying socially engaged offers another important way to prevent cognitive decline. As reports from the Alzheimer’s Association and Institute of Medicine suggest, there is strong evidence that lifelong learning and social engagement helps promote brain function. As part of a healthy lifestyle, staying intellectually and socially engaged can improve memory and overall brain function.

Through these steps, the American Heart Association hopes to work toward achieving its goal of improving cardiovascular health of Americans and reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke by 20% by the year 2020. Cardiovascular health is closely linked to brain function and taking steps to promote cardiovascular health can also protect cognitive function later in life.

Questions for You to Consider

  • At what age should I worry about heart disease?
  • Risk factors that lead to heart disease often develop slowly over time and can take decades to develop. That’s why it’s important to make healthy lifestyle choices like eating healthystaying active and maintaining a healthy weight, at all stages in life. As an adult, it’s especially important to work closely with your doctor to monitor key risk factors and address any risk factors to reduce risk for heart disease.
  • Can mental health affect heart health?
  • Yes. Although there’s still much to learn, research suggests there is a close connection between mental and cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that patients with a mental illness, like depression, are at increased risk for heart disease. It’s also possible that having heart disease increases risk for depression and can worsen outcomes. It’s important to discuss all aspects of health, including mental health, with your doctor.

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