March is Brain Awareness Month. Our overall wellness affects the health of our brains.

We read a lot about the “mind-body connection” these days. Most of us realize that the way we think about things can influence the health of our entire bodies. But it’s important to know that this works both ways: our overall wellness affects the health of our brains.

We used to think of “the mind” in an abstract way, as something somehow separate from our bodies. But new imaging techniques now allow researchers to observe brain function in ways that would have seemed like science fiction only a few years ago. Some scientists have described these images as “portraits of the formation of thoughts.” And what they see confirms again and again that brain health is closely interrelated with whole body health.

Recent studies link brain health with:

Heart health. We’ve long known that getting enough exercise, and controlling our weight, blood pressure and cholesterol all benefit our hearts. Now, it is clearer than ever that the lifestyle choices we make for cardiac wellness also benefit our brains. According to the American Heart Association, “Preserving a healthy blood vessel wall is important in preventing cognitive impairment.”

Diabetes. The American Academy of Neurology released a study showing that people with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes appear to be at higher risk of developing the plaques and tangles in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Said study author Kensuke Sasaki, MD, “It’s possible that by controlling or preventing diabetes, we might also be helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dental health. healthTooth loss and gum disease have also been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Several recent studies suggest that good oral hygiene protects cognitive health. According to Dr. Nozomi Okamoto of Nara Medical University in Japan, “Infections in the gums that can lead to tooth loss may release inflammatory substances which in turn will enhance the brain inflammation that hastens memory loss.”

Hearing loss. healthJohns Hopkins University researchers reported in the Archives of Neurology that older adults with moderate to severe hearing loss may be at higher risk of developing dementia. While the connection is not yet fully understood, the authors suggest that hearing loss may result in “exhaustion of cognitive reserve,” when our brains become stressed with the extra work required to hear. Hearing loss also leads to social isolation, which is another risk factor. The researchers emphasize that current technology often can help seniors improve their hearing—and this new study should provide extra motivation to seek out state-of-the-art hearing loss treatment.

These are just a few of the studies that demonstrate the importance of following our healthcare provider’s advice to best manage health conditions. We know more than ever before that healthy aging lifestyle choices serve double duty: when we improve our diet, add more exercise to our routine, give up smoking, reduce stress, and manage any health conditions we have, we benefit not only our bodies but also our minds.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 201

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