Because this illness has had such a devastating influence on many of my family members and friends, I try to stay up to date on the newest studies on high blood pressure (hypertension). As a result, cardiovascular dangers such as heart attacks and strokes are all too familiar to me.
But I had no idea that high blood pressure has an effect on our mental health.
Hypertension appears to hasten the mental impairment that typically precedes Alzheimer’s disease. To put it another way, decreasing our blood pressure may help us avoid mental deterioration and Alzheimer’s disease.
Given that hypertension rises with age – and cognitive performance falls – the relationship between the two and what we can do about it becomes increasingly significant.
Early indications of Alzheimer’s disease usually appear around the age of 60 and double every five years beyond the age of 65. In the United States, a new case is diagnosed every 68 seconds, with that number predicted to drop to every 33 seconds by 2050.
What Is the Relationship Between Blood Pressure and Cognitive Performance?
Because high blood pressure damages our brains, it has an effect on our cognitive abilities. This damage has an impact on many of the mental activities that we require and use throughout the day, including:
- Short-term and working memory, as well as learning and remembering new information;
- How fast we think, analyze, and process information from our surroundings;
- How well our thoughts are organized;
- Our attention spans and ability to maintain focus;
- Organization and planning;
- Mental agility and adaptability
- Inhibition and control of response (the well-known “mental filter”);
- Perception and problem-solving abilities
Given this, what should our target blood pressure be in order to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease?
Aiming for a Healthy Blood Pressure
According to one recent study, keeping a top blood pressure reading of less than 120 instead of 140 reduced the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment by about 20%.
However, having blood pressure that is too low (with a lower number below 70) isn’t a good thing either, because it’s now clear that having excessively low blood pressure – also known as hypotension – can promote cognitive decline, especially if you’re over 80 years old.
Keeping this in mind, your best bet is to consult with a qualified healthcare professional to determine the appropriate range for you.
Be Proactive in Managing Your Blood Pressure
It turns out that many of the things we can do to improve our blood pressure management will also keep us mentally sharp as we age. They may also help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
However, no matter what steps we take, the sooner we take them, the better, because hypertension can damage our brains long before we notice any mental decline.
Furthermore, it is critical to incorporate the following healthier habits into our lifestyles as much as possible because consistency brings us greater health benefits.
The first – and most important – thing we can do right away to manage our hypertension and slow any mental decline is to make sure our bodies have the proper balance of nutrients.
This entails eliminating unhealthy fats, sugar, and processed foods from our diets and replacing them with a plant-based diet.
It’s also better to try to prepare more meals at home rather than eating out because we have more control (and knowledge) over what and how much we eat.
There is credible evidence that regular yoga practice may lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients.
Physical Activity of Other Kinds
Physical activity, in all of its forms, can also help us manage our weight and hypertension. It may also reduce our risk of developing dementia and may even improve cognitive scores in those who already have dementia or mild cognitive impairment.
The National Institute of Health discovered evidence that aerobic exercise, in particular, may aid in the health of our brains. We should always consult with our doctor or another qualified healthcare professional about what types of exercise are best for us.
Blood Pressure Monitoring at Home
Making the commitment to do at-home blood pressure monitoring can also help.
Adults with consistently high blood pressure were able to better control their numbers, according to an American Heart Association pilot program, when they were given home blood pressure monitors, online and print resources for tracking their readings, and regular reminders to take their blood pressure.
Their medical providers were also kept informed. So, if your doctor hasn’t already suggested home monitoring, you should talk to him or her about it.
My takeaway from all of this is that by focusing on one aspect of our health, we may be neglecting another. We may be able to reduce the likelihood of mental decline as we age if we manage our blood pressure.