Preventing or controlling high blood pressure, not only helps your heart, but may help your brain too. Decades of observational studies have shown that having high blood pressure in midlife — the 40s to early 60s — increases the risk of cognitive decline later in life. In addition, the Sprint-Mind study, a nationwide clinical trial, showed that intensive lowering of blood pressure (even below the previous standard target of 140 for systolic blood pressure) lowers the risk for mild cognitive impairment, which is a risk factor for dementia.
High blood pressure often does not cause signs of illness that you can see or feel. Routine visits to your doctor will help pick up changes in your blood pressure, even though you might feel fine. To control or lower high blood pressure, your doctor may suggest exercise, changes in your diet, and if needed — medications. These steps can help protect your brain and your heart.
A healthy diet can help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes. It may also help keep your brain healthy.
In general, a healthy diet consists of fruits and vegetables; whole grains; lean meats, fish, and poultry; and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. You should also limit solid fats, sugar, and salt. Be sure to control portion sizes and drink enough water and other fluids.
Researchers are looking at whether a healthy diet can help preserve cognitive function or reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. For example, there is some evidence that people who eat a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing dementia.
While scientists aren’t sure yet why the Mediterranean diet might help the brain, its effect on improving cardiovascular health might in turn reduce dementia risk. In contrast, the typical Western diet often increases cardiovascular disease risk, possibly contributing to faster brain aging.
Researchers have developed and are testing another diet, called MIND, a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. According to observational studies of more than 900 dementia-free older adults, closely following the MIND diet was associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and a slower rate of cognitive decline.
Learn more about diet and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Be Physically Active
Being physically active — through regular exercise, household chores, or other activities — has many benefits. It can help you:
Keep and improve your strength
Have more energy
Improve your balance
Prevent or delay heart disease, diabetes, and other concerns
Studies link ongoing physical activity with benefits for the brain and cognition as well, although a strong link between physical activity and Alzheimer’s disease prevention has not yet been documented.
In one study, exercise stimulated the human brain’s ability to maintain old network connections and make new ones that are vital to cognitive health. Other studies have shown that exercise increases the size of a brain structure important to memory and learning, resulting in better spatial memory. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, is thought to be more beneficial to cognitive health than nonaerobic stretching and toning exercise. One study found that the more time spent doing a moderate levels of physical activity, the greater the increase in brain glucose metabolism — or how quickly the brain turns glucose into fuel — which may reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Federal guidelines recommend that all adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity each week. Walking is a good start. You can also join programs that teach you to move safely and prevent falls, which can lead to brain and other injuries. Check with your health care provider if you haven’t been active and want to start a vigorous exercise program.