Heart and Brain Health Closely Related

For years the Alzheimer's Association has made good use of the catch phrase "what's good for the heart is good for the brain." As additional research is conducted in both areas, that simple phrase is proving to be solid thinking.

The startling admission of notable researchers who attended the 2014 Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Copenhagen that a healthy lifestyle is, at this point, the best hope we have to prevent or delay Alzheimer's symptoms underscores this concept. Not surprisingly, the lifestyle recommended for preventing Alzheimer's disease is also the lifestyle that is recommended for staving off heart attacks and stroke.

What can we do to protect our heart and our brain?

  • Exercise: Aerobic exercise increases the level of oxygen in the body. This type of exercise conditions the heart and lungs to work more efficiently and maintain optimal oxygen uptake. When the heart receives enough oxygen it doesn't have to work as hard. This, in turn, makes the heart less susceptible to disease. This same aerobic exercise pumps oxygen rich blood to the brain which helps us think more clearly. While exercise cannot be considered a preventative or cure for Alzheimer's disease there are many studies that suggest it may play a protective role against cognitive decline.

  • Diet: Basically identical diets are suggested for heart health and cognitive health. Olive oil, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruit, and dark and green leafy vegetables are good. Go lightly on high fat dairy products, red meat, organ meats and butter.

  • Manage stress: Information on the National Institutes of Health confirms what many people have been told by their doctors: Chronic stress predicts the occurrence of coronary heart disease (CHD). What may surprise more people is that chronic stress has been shown to increase our risk of Alzheimer's disease as well.

  • Social Interaction: Loneliness, which can be alleviated by a satisfying social life, is another area where heart and brain health converge. Studies have shown that loneliness can increase our risk of dementia, heart attack and stroke. Having people around doesn't necessarily mean we're not lonely. It's the quality of the relationship that matters.

There are of course many other considerations that factor into our heart and brain health. Genetics, employment history, exposure to chemicals and temperament are just a few.

However, if we are looking for what we can change right now, we are looking at lifestyle. Yes, it takes effort to exercise, eat well and at times it can take effort to make ourselves socialize. We may even need professional help to manage chronic stress. Yet, these changes can make an enormous difference in our heart and brain health which, in turn, translates into quality of life. Knowing that should make the effort worthwhile.

Carol Bradley Bursack
Meet Our Writer
Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at mindingourelders.com.