Protect Your Brain by Taking Good Care of Your Heart

What's good for your heart is also generally good for your brain. Understanding the heart-head connection is critical for improving your overall health, as well as for reducing your risk of dementia.

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The Connection Between Heart Health and the Brain

Researchers are increasingly finding a correlation between heart health and brain health. One reason this is true is because blood flow is very important for good brain functioning. Each time your heart beats, about 20-25% of the blood it pumps is delivered to the brain. Blood carries the necessary oxygen to the brain for it to function well. Blood also delivers carbohydrates, fat, hormones, vitamin, and amino acids to the brain, all of which provide the brain with the energy it needs to think clearly and remember information.

When the brain's blood vessels are damaged or if your heart isn't working well, your brain has a harder time getting the nutrition and oxygen it needs. Narrow blood vessels restrict blood flow to the brain, and brain cells will die without an adequate supply of blood.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, "Any condition that damages your heart or blood vessels can affect your brain’s blood supply." Research has found that the presence of heart disease increases the risk for both vascular dementia as well as Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, a study from Vanderbilt University Medical Canter concluded that participants with poor heart health were two to three times more likely to develop memory problems.

Problems with blood flow to the brain can also increase your risk of stroke, which can affect cognition and increase your risk of dementia.

An article in the journal Clinical Epidemiology referenced multiple studies that found a correlation between cognitive impairment and the following conditions:

  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Heart Attacks
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Obesity
  • High Cholesterol
  • Mitral Valve Disease
  • Heart Failure

Another study found that people with mild cognitive impairment were more likely to progress to dementia if they had cardiovascular problems. (Those with mild cognitive impairment have a higher risk of developing dementia, but some people with MCI remain stable over time.)

How to Improve Your Heart and Brain Health

  • Don't smoke
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure
  • Prevent and treat diabetes
  • Follow a healthy long-term diet
  • Exercise
  • Monitor your cholesterol and other health information
  • Practice healthy lifestyle habits, including good sleep practices and stress management

The Positive News

While many research studies found a connection between poor heart health and cognitive impairment, research has also shown the reverse: maintaining a healthy heart has been tied to a reduced risk of dementia and a slower progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Heart disease, while clearly associated with an increased risk of dementia, is something you can impact by lifestyle choices. In other words, unlike genetics or family history, you can exert some control over heart health. You can make healthy choices and in doing so, likely reduce your risk of dementia.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Alzheimer's Association. Alzheimer's and Public Health Spotlight: Heart Health and Brain Health. November 2014.
  • Alzheimer's Association. Be Heart Smart.
  • Circulation, 2015; 131: 1333-1339. Epidemiology and Prevention. Low Cardiac Index Is Associated With Incident Dementia and Alzheimer Disease.The Framingham Heart Study.
  • Clinical Epidemiology. 2013; 5: 135–145. Heart disease as a risk factor for dementia.
  • The American Heart Association. Protect Your Heart, Protect Your Brain. Dec 4, 2014.
  • University of Washington. Neuroscience for Kids. The Blood Supply of the Brain.
  • Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Study shows poor heart function could be major Alzheimer’s disease risk. March 3, 2015.