Shaking some salt onto your meal seems harmless, especially when it kicks up flavor — but it’s a risk factor for hypertension (the kind that doesn't tip in your favor). And a new study published in JAMA Neurology finds that high blood pressure can stall your brain power.
Researchers spent 20 years studying the blood pressure and mental performance of 13,000 adults ages 48 to 67 years old. During this time, participants were periodically tested on their blood pressure, mental memory, as well as verbal and math skills. And over the years, researchers found participants with high blood pressure experienced a nearly seven percent decline in brain power (equivalent to aging 2.7 years) compared to those with normal blood pressure. Even at early onset of high blood pressure, also known as pre-hypertension, a participant’s brain suffered.
“The differences are not huge, but being the equivalent of 2.7 years older mentally means that Alzheimer’s disease, if it comes, will come earlier, and for the population in general that would be an important difference,” lead author Dr. Rebecca F. Gottesman told Reuters Health.
Gottesman also told Reuters that these findings should encourage people, both young and elder, to stay on top of their blood pressure, as well as the habits that keep it steady: healthy eating and regular exercise.
Unfortunately, high blood pressure isn't the only risk factor for cognitive decline. Here are seven more health problems, plus simple ways to solve them.
If you just can’t hear what science is saying about blood pressure, there’s your problem. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health in Baltimore found those suffering from hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent increased chance of cognitive decline compared to those with normal hearing. Hearing loss is also associated with depression and sleep apnea.
“When noise is too loud, it begins to kill the hair cells and nerve endings in the inner ear. The louder a noise, the longer the exposure, and the closer you are to the noise source, the more damaging it is to your nerve endings, or your hearing," Jyoti Bhayani, a certified audiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System, said in a press release.
The solution: Protect your ears as often as you can against noises over 80 decibels. This includes wearing ear buds and covering your ears when they're not on hand. To give you some perspective, a normal conversation is 60 decibels, the subway is 90 decibels, a concert and car horn are both 115 decibels.
Not getting enough sleep doesn’t just make you cranky — it seriously challenges your cognitive skills. In the journal Sleep, a study shows elder men who reported poor sleep quality (also nightmares) were more likely to suffer from cognitive decline. And a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found both older men and women who get less than six hours of sleep per night (or more than nine) scored lower on cognitive tests than those who get six to nine hours.
The solution: Set up an ideal sleep environment (zero lights and cool-temperatures) and sleep on your back — seriously. Doing so doesn’t only help you sleep, but it prevents back and muscle aches.
In a 2012 study published in Neurology, researchers studied over 6,000 adults, an average age of 50 years old. At the start of the study, 38 percent were overweight. When the study concluded 10 years later, these participants experienced a 22 percent decline on their cognitive test compared to those who were a healthy weight. Prior science also finds too much of certain foods, like sweets, soda, caffeine, as well as alcohol, can also hurt a person mentally.
The solution: Adopt healthy eating habits, which is not to say go out and ransack the nearest Whole Foods. While science supports the idea that the cleaner the food, the better, an all-organic lifestyle isn't practical for every single person. Enter: six tips to eating healhy on a budget.
Surprisingly, the way a person walks — experts refer to this as gait — is associated with cognitive decline. At the 2012 Alzheimer's Association International Conference, the Mayo Clinic presented findings from a study that showed a shorter amount of steps per minute, as well as overall stride, put a person at risk for mental impairment. In a separate study presented at the Alzheimers Association International Conference in Copenhagen, participants with slow gait (as well as reported cognitive problems) were twice as likely to develop dementia within 12 years.
The solution: Yep, you can correct your walk. The National Institutes of Health both helps you narrow down the type of gait you have, if it’s problematic, and what you can do to fix it. Beyond your brain, proper gait helps to reduce walking- and running-related injuries.
You get by with a little help from your friends — and so does your brain, according to research from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. After measuring the social activity levels of over 1,000 adults ages 80 and older, researchers found the least active participants experience the most cognitive decline. What’s interesting is that both social- and non-social butterflies showed no cognitive impairment at the start of the study.
The solution: Weekly rituals are an easy way to spend time with friends and family, as well as remind you how important it is to stay connected. Depending on personal preference, these rituals can be as simple as getting together for coffee or happy hour. Other options range from movie nights to decadent, homecooked dinners.
For as much as there is on the harmful effects of the sun, don't shun it just yet. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found people with low levels of vitamin D were 60 percent more likely to suffer from cognitive decline.
The solution: Soak up the sun (with properly applied SPF of course). Supplements are available, though some science suggests they’re not entirely useful. In which case, there are plenty of D-rich foods you can add to your diet, including milk, eggs, mushrooms, and salmon.