Lifestyle Factors Impacting Heart Health Can Also Determine Long-Term Brain Health
As referenced in the previous two blog posts on 5 Key Factors for Long-Term Brain Health and 7 Specific Steps For Healthier Brains and Reduced Cognitive Decline, our personal lifestyles, eating habits, and heart-related health issues all impact the long-term health of our brains.
Research in the early years of the current century first linked cardiovascular risk factors like clogged arteries to Alzheimer’s disease. And an Institute of Medicine paper in 2015 pushed heart-healthy strategies, like managing blood pressure and diabetes, as important ways to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
The brain requires adequate blood flow to function optimally. When blood flow is slowed or blocked, because arteries are filled with plaque or the heart muscles are not pumping at normal strength, brain tissue and cells can become damaged. Elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, and high blood sugar can all impair or block the blood vessels leading to the brain. In worst cases, this results in strokes or mini-strokes, causing vascular dementia. In other cases, the constant squeezing of inadequate blood flow through blocked arteries results in a slowed, but constant, cognitive decline.
Belly fat is another important warning sign of future potential cognitive decline. Men in a Kaiser Permanente study who packed on the most abdominal fat by their 40s were the most likely to develop dementia later on in their lives. Fat cells increase inflammation throughout the body and brain. A combination of aerobic exercise and weight training is a proven method for melting away visceral fat.
In mid-2018, researchers concluded that having higher levels of abdominal fat in old age is directly correlated with a reduction in cognitive function. Conducted by researchers from St. James’s Hospital and Trinity College Dublin in Northern Ireland, the study assessed more than 5000 adults over the age of 60 on a range of cognitive tests. Individuals with a higher waist-to-hip ratio, a standard measure of obesity, had reduced cognitive performance.
In analyzing their findings, these scientists concluded that the impact of excessive abdominal fat on cognitive abilities is likely due to increased secretion of inflammatory markers, particularly C-reactive protein. This chemical is produced in response to signals emitted by fat cells and have previously been linked to a decline in cognitive performance. Other studies have also shown that increased levels of inflammatory markers in the blood are observed in the lead up to dementia.
In essence, your lifestyle choices not only impact your heart health, they also impact the long-term health of your brain. So, if you are interested in protecting the long-term health of your brain, the time to make sensible lifestyle choice around eating, sleeping, weight loss, exercise, meditation, mindfulness, and stress management is now.
This article is partially excerpted from my award-winning book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The book is the recipient of a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association for bringing “a comprehensive plan of action for improving life through recognizing decision-making patterns that don’t serve us well, don’t enrich our lives, and don’t bring us to our goals and dreams.” It also received a Distinguished Favorite Award in the 2019 Independent Press Awards leadership category.