Your longevity has everything to do with your brain health.
My previous article “Heart Surgery and Your Longevity” emphasized the importance of heart health to your overall health and well-being. As you age, your heart health declines, thereby affecting your brain health. A failing heart ages a person physically as well as mentally. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often indicators of declining brain health, which further accelerates the decline of heart health. The decline of both shortens life.
So what is good for your heart is also good for your head.
Why is that?
Some of the strongest evidence linking brain health to heart health is that your heart pumps about 20 percent of your blood to your brain, where billions of brain cells are nourished by oxygen and nutrients from your blood. Consequently, if your heart is not pumping well, or if your brain’s blood vessels are damaged, your brain cells may have trouble getting all the food and oxygen they need. Any condition that damages your heart or blood vessels can adversely affect your brain’s blood supply, and hence nutrients to your brain.
In fact, a long-term study of 1,500 adults found that those who were obese in middle age were twice as likely to develop dementia in later life and those who also had high cholesterol and high blood pressure had six times the risk for dementia.
To optimize your brain health, reduce your intake of fat and cholesterol. Studies have shown that high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol clogs the arteries and is associated with higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Use mono- and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil. Avoid trans-fat in processed foods.
Exercise enhances your brain health. Walking or other moderate exercise for 30 minutes each day pumps up your heart, making it young and healthy, thereby benefiting your brain.
Quit smoking, which interferes with blood flow and oxygen to the brain and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and subsequently dementia.
Know and manage your numbers. Evidence suggests that controlling your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar can make an important contribution to your brain health.
You should have your blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight checked regularly. Blood sugar should be monitored beginning at age 45 or earlier if you have risk factors for diabetes in addition to age.
Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood against artery walls. It is expressed as two numbers: (1) the upper number, systolic pressure, represents the force as the heart beats and (2) the lower number, diastolic pressure, is the force as the heart relaxes between beats. Normal blood pressure is 138/85. Your ideal blood pressure is 120/80. You may have high blood pressure when readings of 140/90 occur over an extended period. New evidence links high blood pressure to increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Cholesterol occurs naturally in all parts of your body, including your brain. There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the bad cholesterol, which is the main source of cholesterol build-up and blockage in your arteries; and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the good cholesterol, which helps keep cholesterol from building up in your arteries.
Cholesterol by itself is not a toxic sludge with a bad reputation. Oxygen is transported to your brain by your blood. If blood supply to your brain is reduced due to blockage of cholesterol deposits, your brain cells may become deprived of nutrients and deteriorate rapidly as a result. Keep your total cholesterol below 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood, with your LDL below 130 and HDL above 65.
When you think of brain health, do not think just from the neck up; instead, think in terms of your heart health. When you think of longevity health, think Alzheimer’s disease. When you think of Alzheimer’s disease, think sharpening your mind.
To live long, make some brain-healthy lifestyle changes, and take action by getting involved in these activities to keep your memory sharp and your brain healthy.
Truly, mental decline as you age may be due to altered connections among brain cells. The good news is that research has shown that keeping your brain active not only increases its vitality but also builds its reserves of brain cells and connections.
Research has also indicated that low levels of education are linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life. This may be due to a lower level of lifelong mental stimulation. That is to say, the more educated you are, the less chance you will get Alzheimer’s disease – or at least the development of symptoms may appear much later in life.
Research has further shown that those who are bi-lingual and who constantly use two languages on a daily basis tend to develop greater immunity from the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
In short, your brain activities are responsible for your brain health, which is an important component of longevity health. To live long, you need to sharpen your mind.
Memory loss is rather common as you age. However, it does not necessarily mean that you are going to have Alzheimer’s disease. Combat memory loss like a disease. Do everything you possibly can to make your brain active at all times. Remember, if you don’t use your brain power, you will lose it.
At any age, you can still make some significant changes in your lifestyle; you don’t have to turn your life upside down, or make extremely drastic changes to achieve the many benefits of sharpening your mind. Start with something small to keep your brain active everyday. Stay curious – commit to lifelong learning. Stay healthier and younger as you age.