Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may be key to preventing cognitive decline - the loss of ability to think - with age, according to a new advisory from the American Heart Association. Both the heart and brain need adequate blood flow, but in many people, blood vessels slowly become narrowed or blocked over the course of their life, a condition known as atherosclerosis, the cause of many heart attacks and strokes.
Many risk factors for atherosclerosis can be modified by following a healthy diet, getting enough physical activity, avoiding tobacco products and other strategies. "Research summarised in the advisory convincingly demonstrates that the same risk factors that cause atherosclerosis, are also major contributors to late-life cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease," said Philip Gorelick, from Mercy Health Hauenstein Neuroscience Center in the US.
"By following seven simple steps - Life's Simple 7 - not only can we prevent heart attack and stroke, we may also be able to prevent cognitive impairment," said Gorelick. Life's Simple 7 outlines a set of health factors developed by the American Heart Association to define and promote cardiovascular wellness.
The Life's Simple 7 programme urges individuals to manage blood pressure, control cholesterol, keep blood sugar normal get physically active, eat a healthy diet, lose extra weight and not smoke. A healthy brain is defined as one that can pay attention, receive and recognise information from our senses; learn and remember; communicate; solve problems and make decisions; support mobility and regulate emotions.
Cognitive impairment can affect any or all of those functions. The advisory, which is published in the journal Stroke, stresses the importance of taking steps to keep your brain healthy as early as possible, because atherosclerosis - the narrowing of the arteries that causes many heart attacks, heart failure and strokes - can begin in childhood.
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