Researchers find important links between heart and brain health
The same risk factors that contribute to making heart disease the leading cause of death worldwide also affect the rising global prevalence of brain disease, including stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
The global death rate from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is increasing even more than the rate of heart disease death, according to the American Heart Association’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2022 Update.
Globally, more than 54 million people had Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in 2020, a 37% increase since 2010 and a 144% increase over the past 30 years.
Additionally, nearly 1.9 million deaths were attributed to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias worldwide in 2020, compared with nearly 9 million deaths from heart disease.
“The global rate of brain disease is quickly outpacing heart disease,” says Mitchell S.V. Elkind, M.D., the past president of the American Heart Association, and a professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“We are learning more about how some types of dementia are related to aging, and how some types are due to poor vascular health. It’s becoming more evident that reducing vascular disease risk factors can make a real difference in helping people live longer, healthier lives, free of heart disease and brain disease,” he says.
According to the statistics update, people with midlife hypertension were five times more likely to experience impairment on global cognition and about twice as likely to experience reduced executive function, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The risk for dementia associated with heart failure was nearly twofold.
Experts recommend maintaining a healthy weight, managing your blood pressure and following other heart-healthy lifestyle behaviors that can also support good brain health. Studies show maintaining good vascular health is associated with healthy aging and retained cognitive function.
TIPS TO GOOD HEALTH
Optimal brain health includes the ability to perform tasks like movement, perception, learning and memory, communication, problem-solving, judgment, decision making and emotion. Cognitive decline and dementia are often seen following stroke or cerebrovascular disease and indicate a decline in brain health.
Consider these steps to live a healthier lifestyle and protect your heart and brain health:
• Don’t smoke; avoid secondhand smoke.
• Reach and maintain a healthy weight. Be mindful of your eating habits; eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugars.
• Be physically active. Start slowly and build up to at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, each week. As an alternative, you can do 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of the two, to improve overall cardiovascular health.
• Get your blood pressure checked regularly and work with your health care team to manage it if it’s high.
• Have regular medical checkups and take your medicine as directed.
• Decrease your stress level and seek emotional support when needed.
To learn more about the relationship between heart health and brain health, visit heart.org.