Keep Your Heart Healthy for Brain Health

By Semko, Laura 
March 21, 2017

December 2015

Keep Your Heart Healthy for Brain Health

Here’s a good reason to keep your heart hearty: your mind. Recent research suggests that unhealthy heart habits may impair brain function—no matter what your age.

Woman jogging in cold weather

The head-heart connection

Like any super computer, your brain needs a power supply. The source: the heart. It pumps oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Without adequate blood flow, your mind may suffer glitches in memory, thought, and other intellectual processes.

What might limit blood flow? The same unhealthy habits that harm your heart, such as smoking and eating high-fat foods. Over time, these behaviors can cause blood vessels throughout the body to narrow. They can also lead to high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

In the journal Stroke, researchers explored this head-heart connection. Using a tool called the Framingham Risk Score (FRS), they calculated the heart health of more than 3,700 people ages 35 to 82. FRS predicts a person’s risk of developing heart disease within 10 years. It factors in age, sex, and smoking history. It also takes into account whether a person has diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

After determining participants’ heart health, researchers measured each person’s brain function. They used two different tests to assess brain activities, such as thinking, remembering, and reasoning. Regardless of age, people with unhealthy hearts had poorer working brains overall.

Beyond normal aging

Your mind ages—just like your body. Forgetting words or losing track of your car keys is a normal part of aging. Poor heart health, though, may worsen the problem. It may also lead to serious diseases of the mind, such as vascular dementia and Alzheimer disease.

Vascular dementia results from restricted blood flow to the brain. Many small strokes gradually damage blood vessels in the head. People most likely to develop this type of dementia are those who have suffered a stroke n the past. Uncontrolled blood pressure sets the stage for stroke.

High blood pressure has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. In a past study, researchers used imaging tools and other tests to look at the brains of 115 healthy older adults. They found that those with high blood pressure showed early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

7 ways to build up your brain and heart

Want to fend off age-related forgetfulness and perhaps diseases like dementia? Here are seven tips to build up brain and heart health:

  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity boosts blow flood throughout the body, even the brain.

  • Don’t smoke. It’s a leading risk factor for heart troubles and other diseases.

  • Watch what you eat. Avoid foods high in saturated fat. Over time, they can clog arteries, limiting blood flood.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Research shows obesity contributes to heart disease and dementia.

  • Invigorate your mind. Do crossword puzzles or read books. Want to go more high tech? Some research suggests video games may help keep the brain sharp.

  • Stay involved. Social interaction with family and friends can liven up your life and reduce stress on the heart and brain.

  • Mind your heart numbers. Work with your doctor to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in a healthy range.


Learn more about memory by taking this quiz.


Online resources

Alzheimer's Association

National Institute on Aging


March 21, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Foster, Sara, RN, MPH