According to a recent presidential advisory from the American Heart and Stroke Associations published in Stroke, living a life to benefit the heart may just branch out to improve brain health!
Key Influences of a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
A heart-healthy diet primarily focuses on the inclusion of plant-based sources, including whole grains, fruits and veggies, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and oils. Fish is also a mainstay of a heart-healthy diet, along with moderated amounts of lean chicken, turkey, and beef. Individuals are further encouraged to reduce highly processed foods that tend to be filled with simple sugar, salt, and other additives. Learn more about a heart healthy diet to prevent heart disease here.
The American Heart Association encourages individuals to participate in at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week, breaking down to 30 minutes of physical activity five out of the seven days. Ultimately, regular exercise elevates heart rate and improves blood flow, along with managing weight to lessen the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Smoking interferes with blood flow and oxygen to the brain and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The consequences of smoking can cause fatty buildups in the arteries (known as atherosclerosis), increase blood pressure, decrease exercise tolerance and the ability for blood to clot. So if you smoke, there is no better time to quit!
Both physical and mental stress can cause serious implications on the heart, along with prompting poor coping mechanisms such as smoking and emotional eating. Practice healthy stress management techniques, including listening to music, taking a walk, and practicing meditation and yoga. Formulating a weekly schedule and prepping meals can also help minimize stress by keeping tasks and other responsibilities in check.
To identify where your health stands, it is imperative to know current numbers, including weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Keeping in the know grants the opportunity to prevent or discourage further health concerns later down the road.
Heart Healthy Lifestyle Going Beyond Heart Health
According to a recent presidential advisory from the American Heart and Stroke Associations (AHA and ASA) published in Stroke, a heart-healthy lifestyle can improve brain health in adults. The report further unfolds AHA’s Life’s Simple 7 featuring ideal health behaviors (nonsmoking, physical activity, healthy diet consistent with current guideline levels, and a body mass index <25 kg/m2) and three ideal health factors (untreated blood pressure <120/<80 mm Hg, untreated total cholesterol <200 mg/dL, and fasting blood glucose <100 mg/dL) to help define optimal brain health.
But how are these factors contributing to brain protection? Aligning with AHA and ASA’s position, “unhealthy behaviors can lead to narrowing of the blood vessels. That reduces blood flow to the brain, and leads to hardening of the arteries of the heart and the brain.” The aftermath can compromise the ability to think, memory, and other cognitive functions. The factor identified as the strongest indicator of brain health is high blood pressure, the most significant risk factor for stroke. Also according to the advisory, uncontrolled hypertension, obesity, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, and depression have been linked to compromised brain health.
Furthermore, the summarized research demonstrates same risk factors that cause atherosclerosis are also major contributors to late-life cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
Fortunately, the risk factors described above are modifiable, unlike advancing age, gender, and family history, posing the opportunity to make a complete lifestyle overhaul. The suggestions parallel with the AHA and ASA’s set goal to to improve cardiovascular disease (CVD) and brain health and reduce CVD mortality and stroke in the United States by 20 percent by 2020. And with heart disease being the number one cause of death in the U.S. and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias being most expensive diseases to treat, maintaining both good heart and brain health can be cost-effective. But perhaps the most attributable benefit is not quantitative, but based on achieving and sustaining quality of life throughout the lifespan!