February is American Heart Month, created to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease which impacts more than 17.3 million people annually. But did you know that heart health is closely linked to brain health? According to the American Heart Association, following a heart-healthy lifestyle can lower your chances of having a stroke, and it can also make a big difference in your mental abilities as you age.
Consider these heart/brain wellness tips:
Eat More Fish
Consuming fish (preferably oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna) at least twice per week can reduce your risk of heart disease by 36 percent. Additionally, the omega-3 fats in fish helps keep blood flowing to the brain. Oily fish also contains Docosahexaenoic acid, most commonly known as DHA. Research shows DHA plays a critical role in the functioning of one’s neurons and people with low DHA levels have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.
Incorporate Fruits and Vegetables Into Your Diet
A study in the journal, Circulation, revealed that people with high blood pressure experienced improved blood flow following every serving of fruits and vegetables eaten, thus reducing blood pressure. Fruits and veggies are tied to brain health as well, with older adults over the age of 65 showing 40 percent less mental decline than study participants who ate few or no vegetables. Dark, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and collard greens are packed with Vitamin E, a well-recognized memory enhancer.
Limit Saturated Fats
Saturated fats found in fried foods, dairy and red meat are harmful to the heart. Research published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who ate more saturated fat showed a higher risk of heart disease compared to those who ate less. A diet rich in saturated fats can negatively impact cognitive brain function as well. And, although our brains may be comprised of about 60 percent fat, it is important to limit saturated fat and instead consume “healthy” fats found in foods such as avocado, olive oil and nuts.
People—including older adults—who do not exercise are twice as likely to get heart disease as those who maintain an active lifestyle. Exercise offers a wealth of physical benefits but it also has been linked to improved brain function and protecting one’s thinking skills. A Harvard University Health blog also pointed out that indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
Smoking has been shown to shave 13-14 years off one’s life. In addition to lung cancer risks, cigarettes wreak havoc on the heart and brain. Nicotine increases one’s heart rate, causing increased blood pressure while carbon monoxide decreases the flow of oxygen to the heart, brain and arteries. Smoking can also cause the narrowing of arteries which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. If you think you’ve done irreparable damage due to a lifetime of smoking and believe quitting is pointless, consider this fact by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Less than 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate will already start to drop back towards normal levels.
Make a pledge this February to lead a healthier lifestyle. Your heart and brain will thank you!