Frequent readers are well-acquainted with the link between heart and brain health.1

So, it’s no wonder that seven healthy habits, advocated by the American Heart Association for heart health, may also play a role in lowering the risk of dementia– even in those with the highest genetic risk.2

A new study, published in the journal Neurology, proves – yet again – that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.3

The study analyzed the lives of 8,823 people of European ancestry and 2,738 people of African ancestry over 30 years.

Researchers tallied up the genetic risk score at the start of the study. They found that the group of people with the highest genetic risk included those bearing at least one copy of a gene variant associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers also examined how people’s heart-healthy habits affected their risk of dementia, including those at highest risk.

What did the researchers discover?

About 18 percent of the European ancestry participants developed dementia during the study.

In this same group, researchers discovered that folks whose lifestyles included more of “Life’s Simple Seven” habits had a reduced risk of developing dementia by the end of the study. Equally encouraging, they found this to be true even for people at the highest genetic risk of developing dementia by the end of the study.

So, what are these heart-saving, memory-boosting habits?

“Life’s Simple Seven” Habits

  1. Being active
  2. Eating better
  3. Maintaining a healthy weight
  4. Not smoking
  5. Maintaining healthy blood pressure
  6. Controlling cholesterol
  7. Reducing blood sugar.

“These healthy habits in the Life’s Simple Seven have been linked to a lower risk of dementia overall, but it was uncertain whether the same applies to people with a high genetic risk,” said study author Adrienne Tin, Ph.D., of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Dr. Tin says the study offers hopeful news, that even for those with the highest genetic risk, living a healthier lifestyle is likely to lower the risk of dementia.

The results for people of African ancestry in the study were less clear-cut. Twenty-three percent went on to develop dementia, but Dr. Tin suggests that this may be due to the sample size.

“Larger sample sizes from diverse populations are needed to get more reliable estimates of the effects of these modifiable health factors on dementia risk within different genetic risk groups and ancestral backgrounds,” Dr. Tin notes.

Regardless, the evidence is clear that certain lifestyle practices may help you dodge dementia.

How Do “Life’s Simple Seven” Save Your Memory?

When you manage blood pressure, you improve blood flow to the brain: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, but that’s not all. A meta-analysis showed that people with high blood pressure midlife were 55 percent more likely to develop impaired global cognition and about 20 percent more likely to experience dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.4

Controlling cholesterol can save you from vascular dementia: High blood cholesterol can raise the risk of certain types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. People who have high cholesterol often have other factors associated with dementia risk such as high blood pressure and diabetes, so separating these factors is complex.5

Losing or managing weight helps bring blood pressure, blood sugar under control: In terms of the risk of dementia linked to obesity, a meta-analysis of studies with up to 42 years of follow-up showed that people with midlife obesity had a 33 percent increased risk of developing dementia. Shedding a few pounds can make a world of difference on blood pressure, heart, lungs, and general well-being.6

Stopping smoking protects brain cells: It’s no secret that smoking’s bad for your lungs and heart. But your brain could suffer, too. A large meta-analysis showed that people who smoked during the study period had a 30 percent increased risk of dementia, a 40 percent higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a 38 percent increased risk of vascular dementia.7

Eating a healthier diet provides better nourishment for brain cells: We’ve written extensively on the health and longevity benefits of heart-healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, heart-healthy fats, nuts, fish, and legumes. These foods have been associated with reduced cognitive decline by supporting brain cell health.

Reducing blood sugar can improve blood flow to your brain: Our food is turned into glucose or blood sugar that our bodies use for energy. High blood sugar levels can wreak havoc on the heart, kidneys, nerves, and eyes. According to the CDC, high blood sugar over time damages blood vessels in the brain that carry oxygen-rich blood.8 You see, when your brain receives too little blood, brain cells can die. This can cause memory and thinking problems and eventually lead to vascular dementia.

Exercising more keeps your brain healthier: The research on the health benefits of exercise is endless, and the brain is no exception. That regular walk around the neighborhood can reduce your risk of cognitive decline, including dementia. One study found that cognitive decline is almost twice as common among inactive adults, compared to their active peers.9

My Takeaway

The research is no surprise to me…. what’s good for your heart IS good for your brain! What’s more, the new science provides fresh motivation for all of us to incorporate these seven healthy habits into our daily health regimen so we can live healthier, more independent lives.

  8. blood sugar over time,can lead to vascular dementia