Can protecting your heart also help ward off Alzheimer’s?

Many conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels also appear to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, called vascular dementia. That’s a decline in thinking skills caused by blocked or reduced blood flow to the brain, which deprives brain cells of vital oxygen and nutrients.

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Lifestyle factors that raise your risk of heart disease and may also increase your chance of developing Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia include:

  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • poorly controlled diabetes
  • a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables
  • lack of social engagement

What’s the connection?

Although researchers are still working to understand Alzheimer’s disease, studies suggest that many people who have features in the brain that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s may not develop symptoms unless they also have vascular (blood vessel) disease. So, researchers theorize, controlling cardiovascular disease risk factors may be helpful in protecting brain health. If you can prevent vascular disease, there may be potential for also preventing Alzheimer’s in some cases.

Protect heart and brain health

You can take steps to protect your heart and brain health with these guidelines:

  1. Use up as many calories as you take in to maintain your weight. If you need to lose weight, use up more calories than you eat. Also, choose your calories wisely. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that every day, you aim for at least 4½ cups of fruits and vegetables, three one-ounce servings of whole-grain products and less than1,500 mg of sodium. Every week, eat at least two 3½-ounce servings of fish and four servings of nuts, legumes and seeds. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages to no more than 36 ounces and processed meats to no more than two servings per week. Keep saturated fats to no more than 7 percent of your total calories.
  2. Get at least a half-hour of physical activity most days. The AHA suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. You don’t have to exercise 30 minutes at a time. Two or three 10 to 15 minute segments a day are also beneficial. Include moderate to high intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days a week.
  3. Quit smoking if you currently smoke. Knowing why you want to quit and getting assistance with quitting can help you stick to your plan. That may include counseling, education or medications. Visit the American Lung Association for help with smoking cessation.]
  4. Control your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Good diet and exercise habits can help keep all of these in check. In addition, working closely with your health care provider can help you keep your levels under control.
  5. Scientists don’t have all the answers about how to prevent Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. But living a heart-healthy lifestyle is certainly good for your heart, and it may benefit your brain, too!

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