You’ve heard how important heart health is. Every day, this amazing muscle pumps 2,000 gallons of blood and beats 100,000 times.1 And since heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, taking steps to protect it is key.2
But did you know a heart-healthy life has bonus benefits? Many lifestyle changes geared toward a healthy heart can have a positive impact on another important area of the body: your brain.
Enjoy a wide variety of colors in your meals and snacks to help boost your intake of anti-inflammatory nutrients. There are many eating patterns that can meet these criteria. If you’re looking for a specific diet for brain and heart health, though, look no further than the Mediterranean diet.
Research shows this eating pattern may help with brain function, memory and alertness while also reducing the risk for heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.3,4 Replace foods with added sugars or refined carbohydrates with fresh fruit or whole grains. Swap out high-fat processed meats with heart-healthy fish or plant proteins like beans and legumes.
Nutrients that are especially geared toward brain and heart health include:
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines), nuts and seeds (walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds), flax oil and fortified milk and eggs5
Vitamin D, found in salmon, sardines, herring, egg yolks, yogurt, fortified milk and fortified orange juice6
B vitamins, found in dark leafy greens, eggs, salmon, beef, oysters, milk, beans, fortified cereal, chicken and turkey7
Speak with a dietitian today
Smoking can raise your blood pressure and put stress on your heart. Nicotine can also change your brain, making it harder to quit.8 Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. Both healthiestYou and smokefree.gov offer programs that can help you quit.
Excessive alcohol intake over time can increase the risks for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, and memory and learning problems.9 The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend men drink no more than two drinks per day, while women drink no more than one drink per day. One drink equals 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine or a 1.5 fluid ounce shot of distilled spirits (tequila, vodka, whiskey, etc.).
Exercising is one of the best things you can do for both mind and body. Your heart is a muscle and cardiovascular exercise is how you strengthen it. For your brain, exercise may help reduce the risk of anxiety and depression and help you feel emotionally balanced, learn and concentrate.10 Before you start any new exercise routine, talk with your doctor to make sure it’s safe.
Try to build up to doing 150 minutes per week of moderate activity, like brisk walking. This can look like walking for 30 minutes, five days a week. Check out our best tips for upping your exercise game.
Chronic stress can increase the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.11,12 Although more research is needed, long-term stress may even have an impact on brain size and the overall health and resilience of brain cells.13
Take time to create a stress management and self-care routine. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, journaling, yoga and therapy may be especially helpful.
While you’re resting, your brain remains active. Sleep promotes the removal of harmful toxins from your brain in a process scientists are just beginning to understand. Sleep also helps you form memories, learn new skills and concentrate on tasks.14
In addition to the brain, sleep impacts almost every part of the body. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night to support your brain, heart, immune system, metabolism and more. Blackout curtains, a sound machine and a cool bedroom can help you set the stage for restful sleep.
Loneliness and social isolation are linked to an increased risk for cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, heart disease and stroke.15 Creating and nurturing close relationships is important. Community centers and hobby groups are great places to meet new people.
Forming new relationships, learning new skills and hobbies, and playing games are also great ways to use your brain. Not only can these activities improve your quality of life and reduce social isolation, but they have also been shown to protect the brain and help it become more resilient to age-related changes.16
High cholesterol, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes and other chronic medical conditions can increase your risk for heart and brain-related decline.17 Manage these conditions by:
Regularly seeing your care team
Following their recommendations
Taking your medications as prescribed
Although these actions may not directly relate to both heart and brain health, they’re important for the latter.
Hearing loss may be related to a decline in brain health.17
Get your hearing regularly checked
Wear hearing aids if recommended
Wear earplugs to protect your ears from loud noises
Take steps to avoid injuries that could lead to head trauma.
Use a helmet and wear a seat belt when appropriate
Wear shoes with nonskid soles
“Fall-proof” your home