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These seven steps will keep your brain healthy from childhood to old age, say researchers

A number of lifestyle factors we wouldn’t normally associate with the brain may help prevent conditions such as dementia.

Image: Shutterstock/Life science

LIVING A HEALTHY lifestyle could help your brain as much as the rest of your body, according to a new advisory from the American Heart Association (AHA).

Taking care of our bodies in the right way could also lessen the risk of cognitive decline – which can lead to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia – in later years, researchers said.

Vascular neurologist Philip Gorelick said: “Research summarised in this advisory convincingly demonstrates that the same risk factors that cause atherosclerosis [a hardening of the arteries that can cause stroke or heart attack], are also major contributors to late-life cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.”

In order to ensure that our brain stays healthy into old age, the AHA recommends following its Life’s Simple 7. This is a set of health factors designed to make our bodies, particularly our heart, in good condition throughout our lives.

They are:

  • Manage blood pressure
  • Control cholesterol
  • Keep blood sugar normal
  • Get physically active
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Lose extra weight
  • Don’t start smoking or quit

And what exactly is a healthy brain? The researchers define it as “one that can pay attention, recognise information from our senses, learn and remember, communicate, solve problems and make decisions, support mobility and regulate emotions”.

Previously, experts had not linked the problems that cause Alzheimer’s with stroke but now believe that they are related.

Gorelick said that elevations of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar can cause impairment of large and smaller blood vessels, “launching a cascade of complications that reduce brain blood flow”.

Gorelick said: “At some point in our lives, a ‘switch’ may be getting ready to ‘flip’, or activate, that sets us in a future direction whereby we become at-risk for cognitive impairment and dementia.”

In Ireland, over 50,000 people live with some form of dementia. According to research from NUI Galway, that number could more than double to 132,000 by 2041.

According to the government’s national dementia strategy, the average annual cost of care per person with dementia in Ireland is €40,500.

It added: “The value of informal care for those with dementia is estimated to be €807 million per annum.”

The American researchers hope that their advisory will help to inform how doctors and physicians treat brain health by linking it to these important lifestyle factors. They added that it could also be a starting point to build a broader definition of brain health.

Gorelick said that monitoring rates of dementia in places where public health efforts are improving the health of people’s heart “could provide important information about the success of such an approach and the future need for healthcare resources for the elderly”.

Read: From Austria to Armagh – this Irishman is trekking 2,500km across Europe for dementia

Read: In a study of older Irish women with Down Syndrome, almost all had dementia 20 years later

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Sean Murray

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