What’s good for your heart is also good for your brain! Keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and your weight in a healthy range are all good for your heart. Following these heart-healthy habits can lower your risk of having a stroke, heart disease or a heart attack. But, did you know that these are also beneficial for your brain health and may help to reduce your chances of developing dementia?

The reason that heart healthy habits are good for your brain is partly because both the heart and the brain rely on healthy blood vessels to supply them with oxygen and nutrients. So, with healthy blood vessels being able to provide a good blood supply, the brain cells can function well. If your heart isn’t pumping well or your brain’s blood vessels are damaged, your brain doesn’t get the blood flow it needs. This means your brain cells will have trouble getting the food and oxygen they need.

Like heart disease, it often takes years of unhealthy habits to damage your brain, so it’s important to think about healthy habits early and maintain these throughout adulthood and middle age. But it’s never too late to make brain healthy changes.

Here are some simple steps that you can take that will make a real difference to your brain health;

1) Look after your heart: keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body weight at healthy levels. Have regular checks and follow the advice of your health professional. Seek help to quit smoking if you smoke.

2) Be physically active: there is strong evidence that regular physical activity is associated with better brain function and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, stimulates the growth of brain cells and the connections between them, and is associated with larger brain volume. It reduces the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol, which are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

3) Mentally challenge your brain: scientists have found that challenging the brain with new activities helps to build new brain cells and strengthen connections between them. This helps to give the brain more ‘reserve’ or ‘back up’ so that it can cope better and keep working properly if any brain cells are damaged or die.

4) Follow a healthy diet: eat a variety of foods including vegetables, fruit, fish, grains, nuts, legumes, and lean meat. Reduce foods high in saturated fats including full fat dairy products, fried food and desserts. Several studies have found that a high intake of saturated fats, such as those found in meat, deep fried foods and takeaway food and trans fats often found in pies, pastries, cakes, biscuits and buns are associated with an increased risk of dementia. So what you eat could affect your brain!

5) Enjoy social activity: Social engagement has been found to have benefits for other health factors related to cognitive functioning, such as vascular condition and depression. It is mentally stimulating and may contribute to building brain reserve which then contributes to a lower dementia risk. Research suggests that social activities that involve mental activity and physical activity such as dancing and team sports for example, provide even greater benefit for brain health and reducing the risk of dementia. All the more reason to take up classes at Health Mates!

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