Our heart and brain are intricately connected on so many levels and depend on one another for blood flow. Our heart is the pump that circulates our blood, while a part of our brain regulates our breathing, heartbeat, blood flow, and more. The constant communication between these two organs helps to keep us alive.
The continuous flow of blood we have delivers oxygen and nutrients to all the cells in our body. And it does so via the 60,000 (SIXTY THOUSAND!!!) miles of blood vessels in our vascular system, ranging in size from large arteries to the tiniest capillaries, perfectly designed to nourish every living part of us.
However, when something interferes with this process it can spell big trouble for our physical health, including problems like developing heart disease, having a stroke, or other serious conditions. But that’s not all. It can also negatively impact your mental health and cognitive function. For example, research shows that over 25% of heart disease patients have depression, and people with depressive disorder often develop heart disease. And a study in the journal Neurology found that women with poor heart health are at greater risk for a type of memory loss called vascular dementia. Keeping your heart healthy is critical for your mind, moods, and memory.
Damaging Blood Vessels is Frighteningly Easy
Our blood vessels are supposed to be flexible so that they can accommodate the constant flow of blood required by our body and brain for optimal functioning. Unfortunately, damage to blood vessels making them stiff and brittle can be caused by many common things, such as these:
- Eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is loaded with high-fat, high-glycemic, processed foods that increase inflammation
- Having high blood sugar such as in diabetes or pre-diabetes
- Habits like nicotine and excess caffeine
- Unchecked stress
- High blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and heart arrhythmias
Because blood vessels are everywhere in your body, the health of this system is crucial for both your mental and physical well-being. Furthermore, anything that hurts your heart hurts your brain too, because your brain uses 20% of the oxygen and blood flowing inside of you.
3 Ways to Keep Your Heart-Brain Connection Strong
Even if you’re struggling with some of the issues I just mentioned, there are things you can start doing right now to help offset the potential for damage to your vascular system, brain, heart, and other vital organs.
- Get treatment if necessary: First and foremost, if you have any health issues that could be harming your blood vessels (and all that they do) it’s imperative to get treatment ASAP. I know it can be scary to think about getting diagnosed with a medical problem, but if you do have one, it’s there whether it’s been identified or not. Going to get it checked out gives you knowledge—and knowledge is power. Once you know what’s causing your symptoms, you get to choose what to do about it.
- Meditation and/or prayer: Not only do they help you feel calmer and more clear-headed, but they are also excellent for stress management. This is super important because chronic stress can lead to increased inflammation, high blood pressure, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Meditation and prayer can improve blood flow, slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure, and improve your mood.
- Exercise and diet: I think of these 2 habits as going hand-in-hand, because improvement in one often leads to improvement in the other.
Exercise is known to support your heart’s ability to pump blood, thereby circulating oxygen and nutrients throughout your body and brain. The increased blood flow in your brain facilitates the release of chemicals, like dopamine and endorphins that help you feel good. And when you feel good you are more likely to make better choices when it comes to food, rather than giving in to cravings for inflammation-boosting, blood-vessel damaging processed, fatty, and sugary foods.
But I encourage you to take it a few steps further. Protect your overall health (and your vascular system!) by switching to a balanced diet that lowers inflammation and includes:
- Lots of fresh produce in a rainbow of colors
- Healthy fats like those found in avocados, nuts, and seeds
- High-quality protein such as salmon and other fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids
- Water…lots of fresh water!
So, take some time to do a little self-evaluation about your habits and see if there are any that could potentially lead to physical or mental health problems down the road—or sooner. Try to be honest with yourself and if there are issues, dig deep and summon the courage to make the changes you should so that you can keep your mind and body going strong for a long time.
If you’re struggling and need professional help, Amen Clinics is here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.