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Life’s Simple 7 for healthy heart, and brain
September 17, 2017, 3:00 pm

A set of simple steps that promote heart health, called ‘Life's Simple 7’, can also foster ideal brain health, says a report by a panel of experts from the American Heart Association (AHA).

Improving your health status with Life's Simple 7 may reduce the risk of dementia caused by strokes, vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and may lessen the risk of cognitive decline (a loss of the ability to think well) as you age, according to a new advisory from the AHA.

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 disease process known as atherosclerosis, the cause of many heart attacks and strokes. 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.

Life's Simple 7 outlines the set of health factors recommended by the AHA to promote cardiovascular wellness. The Life's Simple 7 program urges individuals to: Manage blood pressure, control cholesterol, keep blood sugar normal, get physically active, eat a healthy diet, lose extra weight and not to start smoking, or if they do, to quit.

Studies now show that these seven factors also help to foster ideal brain health in adults. A healthy brain is defined as one that can pay attention, receive and recognize 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.

Elevations of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar can cause impairment of the large and smaller blood vessels, launching a cascade of complications that reduce brain blood flow. For example, high blood pressure is known to damage blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart and the brain. The damage can lead to a buildup of fatty deposits, or atherosclerosis as well as associated clotting. This narrows the vessels, can reduce blood flow to the brain, and can cause stroke or mini-strokes. The resulting mental decline is called vascular cognitive impairment, or vascular dementia.

Previously, experts believed problems with thinking caused by Alzheimer's disease and other, similar conditions were entirely separate from stroke, but over time they have learned that the same risk factors for stroke that are referred to in Life's Simple 7 are also risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and possibly for some of the other neurodegenerative disorders.

As lives stretch longer all over the world, about 75 million people worldwide could have dementia by 2030, according to the advisory. The authors of the advisory reviewed 182 published scientific studies to formulate their conclusions that following Life's Simple 7 has the potential to help people maintain a healthy brain throughout life.

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