Love your heart
Want to give your brain some love? One of the most important things you can do is be kind to your heart.
We know how important things like being physically active, eating healthily and not smoking are for our heart. But fewer people realise that doing the very same things can help keep our brains in shape too.
Staying active helps our hearts pump blood around our bodies, delivering a vital supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Research suggests that, because of this, the brains of people who exercise regularly tend to be healthier, with less damage to their small blood vessels. Plus, the NHS tells us that exercise releases endorphins that help reduce stress and improve our mental wellbeing.
Being physically active goes hand-in-hand with eating well. Eating a balanced diet high in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and healthy proteins helps to prevent heart disease and keep our blood pressure in check.
It’s never too early or late to start thinking about protecting our brains. And research shows that taking steps to improve our health in our 30s, 40s and 50s can be especially important in helping lower our risk of developing dementia in later life. This is because diseases like Alzheimer’s, that cause memory loss and thinking problems, can start decades before any symptoms show.
Like most things in life, it’s about making choices that work for you. For example, being physically active doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym. It could be dancing in the kitchen or a brisk walk instead of taking the bus.
And paying attention to your diet could mean finding healthier versions of recipes you already enjoy.
The more you enjoy things, the more you’ll keep doing them – and the more your brain will thank you in the years ahead.
How do we know this?
All the best evidence points towards a simple rule of thumb: what’s good for your heart is good for your brain.
In a US-based study of people aged over 65, scientists asked over 2,000 volunteers to report what they ate, how often they did mentally stimulating activities, and how much physical activity they did.
The results showed that those who ate healthily, exercised regularly and did activities that challenged their brains lived longer. Out of the participants who did go on to develop Alzheimer’s, those with healthier lifestyles tended to do so at an older age.
Other studies have hinted that you don’t need to be an elite athlete to keep your brain in shape. Researchers in China that followed 500,000 volunteers for 10 years found that staying active by walking for pleasure, doing DIY and catching up on housework were all associated with a lower risk of dementia.
Find out more below.