Taking Care of Your Heart May Help You Avoid Dementia
The prospect of our cognitive abilities diminishing as we age is very scary, especially since we don’t yet know how to reverse the effects of dementia. But what if there were simple guidelines that might prevent you from ever developing dementia? According to new research, these actually exist, although they were not initially devised to protect our brains, but instead, our hearts.
The study, which was conducted at the University of Bordeaux in France, found that following a list of crucial, behavior-related risk factors for heart disease may slash the risk of developing dementia as well.1 The results are based on an investigation that included 6,626 French men and women 65 and older, putting the categories of the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 to work for brain protection rather than a focus on the heart.
To lower the risk of developing heart problems, the AHA’s list recommends taking the following seven precautions:
- not smoking
- a normal BMI (below 25)
- exercising regularly
- total cholesterol levels under 200 mg/dL and blood sugar levels under 100 mg/dL
- blood pressure below 120/80 mm Hg
- consumption of fish twice a week
- consumption of fruits and vegetables three times a day or more
In the current study, the researchers analyzed the subjects’ behavior based on their adherence to these measures. They discovered that with each item on the list that was satisfied, the participant’s chances of developing dementia dropped by 10 percent compared to their counterparts who were not achieving any of the seven factors. What’s more, the effect was cumulative, with those who hit the mark in all seven areas lowering their risk of dementia by a whopping 70 percent.
The volunteers were tracked for an average of more than eight years, during which time they underwent periodic brain function testing. The investigators used both neurological examinations and tests of memory and cognitive abilities to assess any decline in mental faculties or signs of dementia in the subjects, and those who had more of the seven under control fared better.
And while the participants experienced more brain benefits the more Simple 7 areas were fulfilled, there were still advantages even if they fell short in some of the categories. So basically, accomplishing any of the seven conferred some level of protection, and that increased substantially when most or all were achieved. In addition, when the researchers examined the outcomes based on age, those who were among the oldest received similar benefits to those closest to 65. That means that it is never too late to begin taking better care of ourselves.
The findings are in line with those of earlier research that showed certain aspects of our health that we can control can reduce the risk of dementia. For example, a 2018 study at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris found that even slightly elevated blood pressure in middle age is associated with an increased risk of dementia as a senior citizen.
The obvious conclusion is that taking care of your health directly leads to less chances of dementia. But there’s a less obvious conclusion: following the seven steps also means that you’ll be taking fewer medications, and that may, in and of itself, be the reason people experience less dementia. As Jon Barron has explained before, common prescription drugs such as sleep aids, heart medication to treat cardiac arrhythmias, anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, allergy drugs, and even cold remedies can cause dementia as a side effect. According to conservative medical sources, such side effects may still represent 15-30% of all dementia diagnoses.2 But that only accounts for the dementia caused by single medications. What happens when you’re taking multiple drugs with interacting and compounding side effects?
So, what does this really mean for you? It means it doesn’t really matter if the benefit comes directly from having better health or from taking fewer pharmaceuticals as a result. Either way, the result’s the same. In other words, it is time to take care of your health, no matter what your age. And what is good for your heart is good for your brain as well (and probably lots of other parts of your system, too). Go through this list of seven risk factors carefully and see where you might be falling short. Is your BMI a little higher than it should be? Make the necessary changes to your diet so you are maximizing nutrition and cutting excess calories. Are you a little lax about exercising some days? Try a few new activities to renew your interest or commit to dedicating a half hour of your day to doing some form of exercise. Any area that you know is an issue for you can be changed for the better—for your health, your heart, and your brain as you get older.
- 1. Samieri, Cecilia; et al. "Association of Cardiovascular Health Level in Older Age With Cognitive Decline and Incident Dementia." JAMA. 21 August 2018. Accessed 29 August 2018. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2697696.
- 2. Leo Galland, M.D. "Memory Loss Can Be Caused By Over-The-Counter Drugs." Huffpost, THE BLOG 02/17/2011. (Accessed 30 Aug 2018.) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/leo-galland-md/memory-loss-drugs-_b_822245.html