Why a Healthy Brain Requires Taking Care of Your Heart

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons why you should take care of your heart, but if you need a new reason then consider this: A BYU study has found that there is a link between heart health and cognitive problems. Specifically, poor heart health correlated with issues like memory and learning impairment.

“What’s healthy for the heart also seems to be healthy for the brain,” said lead researcher Evan Thacker, assistant professor of health science at BYU, in a university released press statement. “Every element in our body is connected and keeping one part of it healthy helps keep other parts healthy.”

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study looked at over 17,000 subjects aged 45 and older with no history of stroke and with normal cognitive ability. The researchers used the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 score – a quantitative value measured by assessing smoking status, healthy diet, physical activity, body mass index, blood pressure, total cholesterol and fasting glucose – to determine cardiovascular health and used other test to measure cognitive function.

Their findings were clear: Those who scored lower for cardiovascular health were more likely to score poorly on the cognitive tests than their peers with better heart health. To be more precise, 4.6 percent of subjects with diminished heart health showed cognitive impairment in the four-year follow-up while a mere 2.7 percent of those with intermediate cardiovascular health scores showed cognitive deterioration.

“Even when ideal cardiovascular health is not achieved, intermediate levels of cardiovascular health are preferable to low levels for better cognitive function,” Thacker said. “This is an encouraging message because intermediate health is a more realistic target for many individuals.”

The three major findings of the study, according to the BYU researchers, include:

  • Nearly 5 percent of those with poor heart health showed cognitive problems four years later, compared to only 2.6 percent of those with ideal health
  • Better heart health was more common among men, people with higher levels of education, and those with higher incomes
  • Rates of mental impairment were more common among people with lower incomes and those with heart disease

According to Thacker, the study, which was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, should serve to motivate people to take measures in keeping their heart healthy.

“Anyone can choose any one of those seven factors to improve on today,” he said. “Just choose one and start there and then move forward by choosing another one.”

Here are four simple steps to take care of your heart:

1. Opt for a health diet that is low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Instead, consume fruits and vegetables — no surprise here — and increase your intake of fiber-rich whole grains and sea food. Too much sugar can also be problematic so be sure to control your consumption in that department as well.

2. Staying active is a must for good heart health. Even if you do not have time to devote to exercising, you can make healthier choices by opting to take the stairs, walking whenever you can, and signing up for a weekly fitness class.

3. If you’re a smoker, then quitting can change your life. And if you are around someone who smokes, know that secondhand smoking is a health hazards, as the U.S. Surgeon General’s report found that nonsmokers who are exposed to it are 30 percent more likely to develop lung cancer and heart disease from secondhand smoke than those who are not.

4. Do you snore regularly? This seemingly harmless trait could be a sign of sleep apnea — one in five adults have a mild case — which stops breathing during sleep. This constricts the oxygen flow in your body and can play a role in increasing blood pressure, adding to your risk of heart disease and overall, diminishing your heart health.

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