Why Australians should keep heart and brain health link in mind

A heart-healthy lifestyle isn’t just good for your ticker – it can also help protect your brain.

The Heart Foundation is highlighting the link between heart disease and dementia, the nation’s two biggest killers, during Dementia Action Week.

Heart disease is Australia’s leading single cause of death, and dementia is the second.

Heart Foundation Chief Medical Advisor, Professor Garry Jennings, says both conditions have common risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, diabetes and smoking.

“Those with certain risk factors for heart disease also have an increased risk of dementia – another very good reason to take care of your heart,” Professor Jennings said.

Vascular dementia, which develops due to problems with blood circulation to the brain, is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

Vascular dementia, in common with heart disease, can involve fatty deposits building up in the arteries supplying blood to the brain.

“Alzheimer’s disease also has a similar set of risk factors and looking after your heart will reduce the risk of both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia,” Professor Jennings said.

“Heart health and brain health both rely on healthy blood vessels, and some of the steps you can take to keep your heart healthy, with a healthy diet and being physically active, can also help maintain healthy brain function.

“It’s important to be aware of your risks and manage these conditions in consultation with your doctor.”

Almost 580,000 Australians have heart disease and it claims more than 18,000 lives a year.

Dementia is estimated to affect about 450,000 people in Australia, with the number of new cases expected to climb.

He encouraged Australians over 45, and Indigenous Australians over 30, to see their GP for a Heart Health Check. During a Heart Health Check, your doctor will arrange blood tests to check your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, check your blood pressure, ask about your lifestyle and take a full medical and family history.

“A Heart Health Check will involve working with your GP to lower your risk through making lifestyle changes, which may include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, following a heart-healthy diet and possibly taking medications,” Professor Jennings said.

“What’s good for your heart is good for your brain, so taking action to manage these risk factors can help protect the future health of both.”

Dementia Action Week, launched by Dementia Australia, runs from 16-22 September 2019.

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