Protect The Heart Protect The Brain
Cardiovascular health is important for bodily function at large. But it also has a profound effect on our brain. By taking action to protect our hearts, not only do we protect our brain, but we’ll see positive results extend to our mental health as well.
The cardiac connection
The cardiovascular system is made up of arteries, veins, and capillaries that circulates blood throughout our body and to our organs. This circulating flow oxygenates our system and delivers necessary nutrients at the same time. And of course, this includes the brain.
There has been research showing links between different types of heart disease and impairments in cognitive function, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In general, these variations are caused by a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels, called atherosclerosis. This constricts blood flow, which can have several adverse effects. By damaging our ability to oxygenate our brain properly it diminishes cognitive function and can impact focus and concentration, and can lead to memory loss. In extreme cases, this blood flow constriction can trigger strokes.
Because the symptoms can seem minor and entirely unrelated to our cardiovascular system, we often don’t tie them to our hearts right away.
Experts in the medical field recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise every day whenever possible. Being physically active is vital for healthy brain function and a healthy cardiovascular system.
Exercise improves blood flow, which increases the amount of oxygen being pumped through our body. Regular exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, lowers cholesterol levels, keeps our arteries flexible and healthy, and lowers our blood pressure. All of these things ensure our brain gets the right nutrients and the more oxygen being pumped to our brain, our overall cognitive functionality improves markedly.
Depending on what we have going in our lives, motivation to exercise every day can be difficult to come by. But by starting small and rewarding these efforts, we can begin building these healthy habits. It’s better to do a little exercise than push too hard and burn ourselves out, or worse, injure our body, hindering our ability to exercise even more.
Have a heart-friendly diet
Eating for heart health tends to be eating for brain health. A balanced, plant-focused diet will support both our brain and cardiovascular system, but we want to focus on specific heart-healthy foods here.
To ensure our arteries stay free of buildup, we want to control our intake of LDLs or bad cholesterol. These contribute to fatty blockages inside our blood vessels, thereby constricting blood flow. High concentrations of LDLs are found in foods with high-saturated fats and high trans fats such as deep-fried foods, processed meals and snacks, and most fast foods.
Instead, if we eat a diet full of leafy, green vegetables and whole grains, along with the usual brain-healthy foods like avocados, berries, fatty fishes, and walnuts, we lower our levels of LDLs. These foods also work to keep our arteries flexible, lower our blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce our risk of heart disease.
Cigarette and cigar smoke is a habit that damages nearly every organ in the body. As far as our cardiovascular system goes, smoking contributes to atherosclerosis by damaging the structure and function of our blood vessels. Even without blood clots or blockage buildup, damage to the veins leads to damage to the heart, which disrupts how effectively our system can circulate blood throughout our body. This means we aren’t getting appropriate oxygen levels to our organs and nutrients aren’t being delivered effectively.
Additionally, smoking can increase cholesterol levels, elevate our blood pressure, and contribute to weight gain and obesity. The good news is quitting smoking can allow the body to heal, reducing the risk for heart attacks and strokes. Even arteries, stiffened from smoke damage, will soften and regain flexibility.
In general, what is good for the heart is also good for the brain. And while it’s important to focus on our brain health, we need to pay attention to the rest of our body as well. By working on maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system we will improve our physical health, strengthen our brain function, and enjoy a boost in our mental health.