Medically Reviewed by Roland L. Skinner, III, MD
A healthy brain benefits you throughout your life but it requires you to keep a close eye on a number of personal considerations.
“There are relatively simple actions you can take to keep your brain healthy and, possibly, even delay or avoid dementia,” says McLeod Neurologist Roland Skinner, III, MD. “I like the American Heart Association’s ‘Life’s Simple 7’ steps to improve both heart and brain health.”
Blood pressure is a strong predictor of brain health and high blood pressure is a significant risk factor for stroke. Blood pressures of less than 120/80 are considered within the normal range. Anyone with blood pressure higher than this should add regular exercise and a diet full of whole grains, fruits and vegetables to your lifestyle. It is important to work with your primary care physician, who can offer medications and other resources, to get your blood pressure under control.
- Smoking is a huge risk factor for heart disease and tobacco is also linked to mental decline and brain function. A study published in Molecular Psychiatry found that smoking damages a part of the brain, where important thought processes, such as memory, language and perception occur. This area of the brain does normally thin with age, but heavy smoking appears to speed a decline to the lower brain function.
- Weight Loss means reducing the burden on the heart, lungs and blood vessels to increase blood flow to the brain and boost overall brain function.
- Cholesterol in your blood above acceptable levels can cause thickening of the artery walls and affect the blood supply to the brain. This type of vascular disease is a risk factor for development of Alzheimer’s Disease.
- High Blood Sugar encourages the growth of plaque in the arteries and increases the risk for diabetes. A diabetic with hypoglycemia, a common complication of diabetes caused by low glucose levels in the blood, can lead to loss of energy for brain function and is linked to poor attention.
- Diet that contains omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals nourish the brain. A healthy diet should include lots of fruits and vegetables, fat-free and low-fat dairy, and fish with omega-3 fatty acids and only a minimum of carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, rice or sweets.
- Exercise affects the brain in many positive ways. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain and improves blood flow, changing the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking, as well as improving mood, general well-being and sleep. Moderate exercise for 20-30 minutes 3-5 days per week is optimal for maintaining top physical heart and brain health.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
Each of these “Simple 7” requires action on your part. If you notice a deterioration in memory, thinking or speech, see your primary care physician. You may need a referral to a Neurologist to test brain function and develop recommendations.
To help you find a Neurologist near you, click here.