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What is the relationship between brain health and heart health?


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Each day, your heart pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood — enough to fill an 8 by 10 foot swimming pool.

And, although the brain makes up about 2% of your body mass, the billions of cells in your brain function by using about 20 percent of the food and oxygen your blood carries.

It’s clear that the heart and brain are deeply interconnected. As an example, damage to a person’s blood vessels and heart can increase risk of stroke.

A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is blocked or reduced, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Strokes can cause long-term damage to the brain, and can even lead to vascular dementia: the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

In this vein, it’s important to consider the numerous ways in which brain and heart health overlap.

Risk Factors That Bind Them


Several risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, and obesity, are also implicated in dementia. Let’s explore a couple of these risk factors in greater detail:

Smoking: Smoking cigarettes harms the cardiovascular system by damaging cells that line blood vessels. Blood vessels become narrowed, increasing risk for conditions like stroke and coronary heart disease. Research has also demonstrated a relationship between tobacco use and increased risk of cognitive decline. However, studies have shown that long-term smoking cessation may reduce this risk.

High blood pressure: High blood pressure can harm the arteries by making them less elastic. In turn, this decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, leading to heart disease. One study found that older adults with high blood pressure had an increased likelihood of having Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers in their spinal fluid.


Cultivating Brain Health and Heart Health


Interventions to improve heart health, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, have been shown to also reduce dementia risk. These measures can improve blood flow throughout the body, including to the brain.

For example, regular physical activity is a cornerstone of heart health. Studies have shown that people who exercise have a lower likelihood of developing dementia. Many experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

Overlapping risk factors and healthy interventions emphasize the importance of a unified approach in managing our overall health to protect both our hearts and brains.

Heart health and brain health go hand in hand!