From Babies to Seniors: 7 Steps to Staying Mentally Sharp
Seven steps to keep your brain healthy from
childhood to old age
American Heart Association
A set of simple steps that promote heart health, called Life's Simple 7, can also foster ideal brain health, an expert panel says. Improving your health status with Life's Simple 7 may reduce the risk of dementia caused by strokes, vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
A healthy lifestyle benefits your brain as much as the rest of your body -- and may lessen the risk of cognitive decline (a loss of the ability to think well) as you age, according to a new advisory from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.
Both the heart and brain need adequate blood flow, but in many people, blood vessels slowly become narrowed or blocked over the course of their life, a disease process known as atherosclerosis, the cause of many heart attacks and strokes. Many risk factors for atherosclerosis can be modified by following a healthy diet, getting enough physical activity, avoiding tobacco products and other strategies.
"Research summarized in the advisory convincingly demonstrates that the same risk factors that cause atherosclerosis, are also major contributors to late-life cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. By following seven simple steps -- Life's Simple 7 -- not only can we prevent heart attack and stroke, we may also be able to prevent cognitive impairment," said vascular neurologist Philip Gorelick, M.D., M.P.H., the chair of the advisory's writing group and executive medical director of Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Life's Simple 7 outlines a set of health factors developed by the American Heart Association to define and promote cardiovascular wellness. Studies show that these seven factors may also help foster ideal brain health in adults.
The Life's Simple 7 program urges individuals to:
Manage blood pressure
Keep blood sugar normal
Get physically active
Eat a healthy diet
Lose extra weight
Don't start smoking or quit
A healthy brain is defined as one that can pay attention, receive and recognize information from our senses; learn and remember; communicate; solve problems and make decisions; support mobility and regulate emotions. Cognitive impairment can affect any or all of those functions.
The advisory, which is published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke, stresses the importance of taking steps to keep your brain healthy as early as possible, because atherosclerosis -- the narrowing of the arteries that causes many heart attacks, heart failure and strokes -- can begin in childhood. "Studies are ongoing to learn how heart-healthy strategies can impact brain health even early in life," Gorelick said. Although more research is needed, he said, "the outlook is promising."
Elevations of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar can cause impairment of the large and smaller blood vessels, launching a cascade of complications that reduce brain blood flow. For example, high blood pressure -- which affects about 1 in 3 U.S. adults -- is known to damage blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart and the brain, Gorelick noted. The damage can lead to a buildup of fatty deposits, or atherosclerosis as well as associated clotting. This narrows the vessels, can reduce blood flow to the brain, and can cause stroke or "mini-strokes." The resulting mental decline is called vascular cognitive impairment, or vascular dementia.
Previously, experts believed problems with thinking caused by Alzheimer's disease and other, similar conditions were entirely separate from stroke, but "over time we have learned that the same risk factors for stroke that are referred to in Life's Simple 7 are also risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and possibly for some of the other neurodegenerative disorders," Gorelick said.
The advisory also recognizes that it is important to follow previously published guidance from the American Heart Association, Institute of Medicine and Alzheimer's Association, which include controlling cardiovascular risks and suggest social engagement and other related strategies for maintaining brain health.