Get active. Eat better. Stop Smoking. These simple suggestions are proven to help you live a longer and healthier life. And that’s what we all want – more time to spend with those we love and to pursue our passions. Maintaining cardiovascular health is important to reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack and overall risk of death, but it’s also critical for preserving mental function and keeping our minds sharp as we age.
“Someone who has high stress, a poor nutritional base and other risk factors like smoking is more likely to experience vascular disease. Elevated adrenaline and cortisol in the blood vessels leads to inflammation and the body’s inability to process glucose, or sugar that circulates in the blood,” says Erica Clark, DO, fellowship-trained vascular surgeon who specializes in circulatory conditions like carotid disease, peripheral artery disease and venous disorders. “This high adrenaline can elevate anxiety, heart rate and blood pressure, and can lead to depression and a hyper focus on pain. All these things together can contribute to cognitive decline.”
BREAK THE “CHAINS”
Research has shown that making small improvements in your lifestyle – like controlling cholesterol, managing blood pressure, reducing blood sugar or eating a more healthful diet – can help you keep mental health issues at bay. According to Dr. Clark, there are many small things you can do that have a big impact on the health of your mind and body. The first is to improve your diet. She offers these tips to get started:
- Shop on the outside perimeter of the grocery store
- Avoid packaged foods (high preservatives)
- Eat more fruits, veggies, nuts, eggs, and lean meats - these promote strong immune health, proper hormone production and decreased inflammation
- Take daily vitamins
- Increase the amount of water you drink
Dr. Clark also recommends regular exercise and taking a personality test to help determine what kind of exercise program you’ll be most likely to stick with in the long run.
“It’s really helpful to know what works for each person, and a personality test gives us some insight into your preferences as an introvert or extrovert,” says Dr. Clark. “Introverts may be energized by taking a 30-minute walk, jogging, biking or swimming. Extroverts get reinforced with a gym memberships, group classes like dancing or water aerobics, or even hiking with a group of friends. The important thing is that you find something you enjoy and do it regularly.”
Her last tip? Make stress relief a priority. There’s a lot coming our way every day – family and work expectations, constant email and the 24-hour news cycle. Taking a long bath, working on a craft project, reading a good book, or participating in a cooking or yoga class are all good ways to reduce stress and be present.
“It’s important to take at least 30 minutes every day and try to clear your mind – that means no phone, email, TV or interruptions,” says Dr. Clark. “It’s a simple way you can help preserve and protect your mental and physical health, leading to a longer and happier life.”