By: HumanN Editorial Team
For centuries, there’s been a fascination with the connection between the brain and the heart… Age-old tales of heroes choosing between logic and passion—a centerfold to cultural narratives from song lyrics and movie plots to our personal stories. Yet, the connection between the brain and the heart is hardly talked about when it comes to health. But research has shown the two are more connected than we’ve previously thought.
Blood flow powers these two most powerful organs
We’ve known for years that blood flow is a silent but powerful force in matters of the heart. It’s through blood flow our cells, muscles, organs, and systems can thrive. When our blood flow is impaired, as is the case when we have low Nitric Oxide levels, we deal with challenges like high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues that can greatly interfere with how we go about our daily routines. The same can be said about blood flow to the brain and our cognitive performance.
Our brain has many blood vessels, and despite its size compared to other organs of the body, it receives 15-20% of our blood supply. That’s because the brain needs blood and oxygen to survive. Therefore, the heart works to supply blood to the brain constantly. Studies have shown that every minute 750-1,000 milliliters of blood flow through the brain by way of two pairs of arteries: internal carotid arteries and vertebral arteries. When blood flow is impaired because of arterial and vascular function, it can lead to blockages and other issues, impacting brain health. That’s why experts advise keeping a close eye on blood pressure, making it a point to get your numbers checked regularly, and aiming to keep your numbers at 120/80 mm Hg or lower.
Manage blood flow through lifestyle practices
What should you do if your blood pressure falls outside of the recommended levels and you’re concerned about your brain health? Experts agree you have more power than you think. By focusing on factors within your control, such as moderating your general health and taking steps to improve your lifestyle, you can make great strides in caring for both your heart and your brain.
There are several things you can do to support healthy blood pressure, improve blood flow and enhance heart and brain health:
- Add more whole foods to your diet. Research has shown that plant-forward diets that focus on whole grains and include some heart-healthy proteins like fish are great for heart and brain health.
- Exercise at least 20 minutes per day. Federal guidelines also encourage individuals to commit to 150 minutes a week (around 20 minutes a day) of moderate cardiovascular exercise in addition to 2 strength training sessions to support their cardiovascular and brain health.
- Avoiding smoking. Despite all the warnings, the CDC reports 40 million adults in the U.S. still smoke cigarettes. And 16 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking. Knowing how much of an impact smoking can have on overall health, quitting can be a crucial step in moving closer to your health goals.
- Mitigate alcohol use. While studies have shown that having a glass of wine is ok, overconsumption of alcohol can have a host of negative effects, especially related to your sleep. Quality sleep is essential to cognitive function.
- Managing stress. We can’t avoid all stress. But we can manage how we deal with it. Prolonged stress can interfere with your efforts to live a healthier lifestyle and, over time, can impair your cognitive function. Thankfully, there are plenty of free resources available, like apps, podcasts, and even Youtube videos that share helpful practices to mitigate stress.
It’s no surprise that our brain and heart are connected. By finding ways to improve blood flow, you can experience the benefits of more mental and physical energy and overall wellness through lifestyle changes. The key is to focus on small, incremental changes that you can stick with long term.