Take Brain Health to Heart

What’s good for your heart and blood vessels is also good for your brain. Recent studies have shown that risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as physical inactivity and obesity, also contribute to conditions such as memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and reduced cognitive ability, according to the American Heart Association.

When you keep a consistent flow of blood to the brain through healthy arteries, you boost your memory, thinking processes and energy levels. It’s best to establish healthy habits in childhood and maintain them through adulthood, but it’s never too late to start.

Take Brain Health to Heart - In Content

Follow these essential steps for optimizing your brain health and lowering your risk of stroke:

Eat a Brain-healthy Diet

A diet that’s good for your brain is also good for the heart and blood vessels that supply your brain with oxygen and essential nutrients. Make these brain-healthy and heart-healthy foods the core of your diet:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fish (salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring or trout, which are rich in omega 3 fatty acids that improve your focus, concentration and mood)
  • Whole-grain, high-fiber foods
  • Fat-free and low-fat (1%) dairy products
  • Lean proteins, such as fish, poultry, beans and peas

At the same time, work to reduce sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in your diet. Limit red meat, vegetable and nut oils, and sweets or processed foods such as cakes, cookies, chips and pastries. Lowering fat in your diet will lower cholesterol in your blood, and reducing sodium will help keep your blood pressure at a normal rate. High cholesterol and high blood pressure are leading contributors to stroke and impaired brain function, so keeping these in check is a critical way of protecting your brain.

When you’re at the grocery store, a good guideline is to shop around the edges of the store, where you’ll find fresh produce, meats and other natural products. Avoid the inner aisles, where many processed and ready-made products are full of extra sodium and sugar.

Get Consistent Physical Activity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week and at least two days a week of weight training.

Choose activities that are enjoyable for you, and partner with a friend to keep you both motivated and accountable.

When you keep a consistent flow of blood to the brain through healthy arteries, you boost your memory, thinking processes and energy levels.

Examples of moderate-intensity exercise include:

  • Walking at a brisk pace, about 3 to 4 miles per hour
  • Water aerobics
  • Hiking
  • Dancing
  • Martial arts
  • Riding a bike

Vigorous exercise includes:

  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Singles tennis
  • Riding a stationary bike at high speed and resistance

Go Red for Women fitness expert Andia Winslow offers a Kitchen WorkoutOff Site Icon using common items found in your kitchen and a Partner WorkoutOff Site Icon that trades in a happy hour for a heart hour.

Live Smoke-free

If you smoke, break the habit. Smoking increases your risk of clot formation, thickens your blood and contributes to plaque buildup in your arteries. Sign up for a smoking cessation program or ask your doctor about other methods to help you quit.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Extra weight strains your entire body and puts you at greater risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — all risk factors for stroke. In addition to eating good foods and exercising, monitor your portion sizes and overall calorie count so you are burning at least as many calories as you are taking in. Plan ahead by keeping healthy snacks readily available and making healthy meals over the weekend if you have a busy week ahead.

Manage Your Stress

Because stress causes your heart rate to increase and your blood pressure to rise, chronic stress can have a negative effect on your body. Be aware of how stress affects you and take steps to get stress under control.

Effective ways to relieve stress include:

  • When you feel stressed or upset, stop and focus on your breathing. Concentrating on inhaling and exhaling will lower your heart rate and clear your mind.
  • Sit quietly for 10 to 15 minutes a day to allow yourself to get grounded and centered. Even sitting quietly for a few minutes can bring a positive start to your day or help you go into a meeting with greater calm and focus.
  • Laugh often. Watch a funny video or talk to someone who makes you laugh.
  • Get plenty of sleep — six to eight hours is recommended by the American Heart Association.
  • Discuss your feelings or fears with a trusted friend or partner.
  • Repeat a positive phrase or affirming statement. For example, “All will be well” or “We can work this out.”
  • Exercise routinely, which researchers have found reduces tension, improves mood, promotes better sleep and boosts self-esteem.

If you are having problems with memory or thinking, discuss this with your physician. Also, talk to your doctor about risk factors for heart disease and stroke, both leading causes of death in the U.S. Stroke is also a major contributor to severe, long-term disability, so addressing potential problems early is important for your ongoing brain health.

Small Steps: Take 20
To prevent eye fatigue caused by long periods of computer use, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Look away every 20 minutes at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.