It’s amazing how often these days we’re confirming that what’s good for one organ system is good for another and for your health in general. Sure does look like the song “Dem Bones” was right: “the neck bone connected to the head bone,” etc.
For thousands of years, practices like yoga have stressed the connection between the mind and the body. Looks like the yogis were right. A recent study from the American Heart Association shows that brain health and dementia are related to seven bodily health factors. These seven preventive practices, which they call “Life’s Simple 7,” can help ensure heart health and avoid dementia later in life.
These seven health practices help prevent atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries, which occurs as you age. As these deposits, or plaques, grow in the arteries in various parts of your body, it creates health issues.
It’s no secret that all of the systems of the body are connected. Health is a very holistic subject — all of the systems work together and interact. Bad health habits can cause plaque buildup in the brain and can contribute to conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. The “Simple 7” can keep your cardiovascular system and brain — as well as the rest of your body — healthy.
Here are seven steps to help keep your brain healthy as you age:
Quit smoking (or don’t start)
Smoking causes cancer as well as a number of serious health issues.
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body. There, I’ve now said it 2,378 times in this column. Apart from causing cancer and accumulating toxins in your lungs, it can damage the arteries in your brain causing atherosclerosis, which could lead to a stroke or dementia.
Lose extra weight
While a few extra pounds may not seem like a big deal, you’re better off without them.
Fat makes your body work harder to survive. It limits the amount of blood and oxygen that can get to the heart and brain. This can cause strokes, heart attacks, atherosclerosis and dementia.
Get physically active
Physical activity is one way to avoid heart disease and dementia, maintain a healthy weight and stave off other diseases.
One of the best ways to keep your whole body healthy is to exercise regularly. That doesn’t mean you need to become a “gym rat,” but it does mean making a commitment to your health. Most of us should aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week.
Keep blood sugar normal
You’ve likely heard the term “blood sugar level” or “blood glucose level.” All sugar that you eat and drink throughout the day is converted into glucose. When left unchecked, high blood sugar can cause atherosclerosis.
For people without diabetes, blood sugar typically varies between 70 and 140 mg/dL. This is considered a normal and healthy range. Blood sugar can be regulated by eating a healthy and consistent diet and with exercise. If diabetic, work hard with your health care team to stay in your healthy range.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that helps with the normal functioning of your body. Keeping your bad cholesterol low can help ensure good brain health.
Cholesterol is important. It’s in our food, and we need it to survive. Too much cholesterol is a problem, however. Cholesterol can build up in your arteries and stick to the walls, causing them to harden, leading to clots and wreaking havoc in the arteries of the brain.
Monitor your cholesterol with your doctor, and moderate your intake of high-cholesterol foods such as red meat.
Manage blood pressure
Blood pressure is a measurement of how hard blood pushes against your circulatory system. High blood pressure can be a sign that the artery walls are hardening and that the heart is working too hard. Blood pressure can be elevated by many factors including weight, stress, salt intake, genetic predispositions, kidney disease and others that can be managed with the help of your team.
To keep blood pressure down, maintain a good diet and exercise regimen. Practice mindfulness and keep your stress level low.
Eat a healthy diet
“Put good in, get good out” is a fitting adage for why a good diet is important. Much like an engine, the quality of fuel determines how well the engine can perform and its lifespan. A healthy diet influences everything in your body. It is one of the most important factors for a healthy body and mind.
Eat all foods in moderation, and try to balance eating the main food groups.
This is Alzheimer’s awareness month, and Thursday, June 21, was Alzheimer’s awareness day. We’re still working to conquer this cruel disease, but the “Simple 7” above will surely be part of the way we do.
Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]