Heart Smarts: Tips to Keep Your Heart (And Brain) Happy and Healthy

In literature and popular culture, we often talk about our hearts and our heads: the two being often diametrically opposed to one another. Use your brain! one may say. Follow your heart! says another. It would make sense to think that these two organs would be completely separate when it comes to health, too. However, the connection between the brain and the heart is much closer than you might expect…in fact, you might say that you can’t affect one without affecting the other.

It turns out that our hearts and our brains are the yin and the yang that keep our body moving. Our heart pumps oxygenated blood throughout our body – which is what fuels our brain – which sends signals to the heart to keep pumping, and so on, and so forth. When your cardiovascular system is working at peak performance, your brain is more likely to be firing on all cylinders. However, when blood vessels become damaged, this can lead to a slew of health complications like heart disease, stroke…and even cognitive issues like memory loss and dementia.

Since February is American Heart Month, we at Avalon wanted to put together some tips on how to practice heart-healthy – and brain-healthy – habits that will help people of all ages keep their systems in tip-top shape. By working to keep your heart healthy, you will also lower your risk of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s, lessen your risk of a stroke or arterial disease and increase your well-being in innumerable ways.

Preventing Dementia Through Heart-Healthy Habits

Yes, we know – there are no hard-and-fast ways to prevent dementia. In fact, you may have heard it said that dementia isn’t really preventable at all. That’s both true and not true at the same time. It is true that science and medicine still haven’t determined what exactly causes a person to develop dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also true that we don’t have a cure for cognitive decline, although great strides are currently being made in research.

What isn’t true is that dementia can’t be prevented – well, at least one form of dementia. Vascular dementia, which is the second-most prevalent form of dementia in the United States, is something that can be prevented to a point by maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.

Vascular dementia is a form of dementia that generally occurs due to damage in the brain caused by strokes. These strokes can be massive events, or they can be multiple mini-strokes that the individual doesn’t even know are occurring. Unlike forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia occurs only in response to the strokes. Otherwise, the damage will hold steady instead of progressing like other forms.

While vascular dementia is not always linked to strokes, it is generally accepted that living a heart-healthy lifestyle will help prevent or halt further progression of the disease.

Now, dementia is not the only risk that can occur because of poor heart health. Overall, keeping your cardiovascular system healthy is incredibly important, because poor habits can cause everything from hypertension to heart disease to blood clots to diabetes, disabilities and more.

Fortunately, taking steps to improve your heart (and brain) health are simple. In fact, you may already be doing them! Best of all, incorporating these steps into your daily life will begin improving your health right away. It’s never too late – or too early – to care for your heart, your brain and your body.

7 Tips for Heart and Brain Health

The American Heart Association has identified seven major factors that affect your cardiovascular health. They are:

– Blood pressure

– Cholesterol

– Blood sugar

– Physical activity level

– Diet

– Weight

– Tobacco use

Keeping all of these factors in the “healthy” region will do wonders for keeping your heart and brain in tip-top shape. Here are seven tips for helping accomplish all that as well as laying the foundation for a brain-healthy, heart-healthy, overall-healthy lifestyle.

  1. Exercise regularly.

When it comes to getting healthy, “exercise regularly” is the top tip – and for very good reason. Studies show that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day – like walking briskly – is enough to improve brain function, boost your mood and improve heart health. There are no downsides to exercising regularly, and best of all, there’s no “wrong” way to do it. The easiest way to start? Get moving – no matter how little that may be. Take a walk around your neighborhood every evening. Do squats while working in the kitchen. Lift weights while you’re watching TV. Or do something fun that you enjoy, like gardening or dancing. As your tolerance for exercise grows, amp up the intensity to get even more out of your workout.

  1. Eat a balanced diet.

You are what you eat, so eating a heart-healthy diet will do wonders for your overall wellness. Fill your plate up with vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, low-fat dairy and whole grains. Avoid processed foods, and indulge in sugar, salt and alcohol sparingly. Don’t eat too many fatty cuts of meat. Not only will this help you improve your health, but you’ll feel great, too.

  1. Quit smoking.

Smoking is one of the worst habits you can pick up. It’s incredibly damaging to your cardiovascular system, increases your risk of developing many different cancers, causes a slew of heart issues…really, there are no positives to smoking. If you currently smoke, quit as soon as you can. Studies show that within just 20 minutes of quitting smoking, your blood pressure and heart rate will drop to normal levels…and the benefits keep increasing from there. Talk to your doctor if you’ve been trying to quit or find it difficult to do so. And, of course, if you don’t smoke already…don’t start!

  1. Visit your doctor regularly.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so they say. As we age, health problems naturally increase – so it’s important to have a good relationship with your primary physician. Schedule regular health checkups to make sure your medications are working and to catch any potential issues before they develop into full-blown problems.

  1. Free your mind.

Meditation has become a hot trend over the past few years. It’s not just a Zen thing – the mind-body connection can help your body function better, keep you in a better mood and give you an overall sense of calm and purpose. Studies show that daily meditation calms the mind, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and improves overall well-being. You don’t need any special tools or equipment to do it, either. Check out guided meditations on YouTube to get a feel for how it’s done.

  1. Don’t drink too much.

Drinking alcohol on a daily basis can cause high blood pressure and increase your risk of depression, diabetes and other health issues. While having a glass or two on a special occasion is fine, take steps to reduce your drinking and your heart and brain will thank you.

  1. Spend time with friends and family.

The idea of dying from a broken heart isn’t just a fate reserved for those in a romantic novel. Heart issues can actually be caused by psychological factors like loneliness, depression and stress. It’s common for seniors – especially for those with serious health or mobility issues – to become socially isolated and lonely. It’s essential for seniors and their loved ones to find ways to get out and be among people they love.

Heart health is a gift that keeps on giving. By focusing on eating right, exercising regularly and doing things that improve your overall wellness, it’s easy to live a lifestyle that provides holistic wellness – for your mind, your body and your soul. Not only will your heart and brain thank you – your future self will thank you as well.

By |2020-02-24T17:59:37-06:00February 24th, 2020|Categories: Senior Health|0 Comments