Here Are 13 Factors That Shape Brain Health


The American Heart Association (AHA) made an outlined list of factors for primary care clinicians to consider when looking into their patient’s brain health.

These guidelines, which include at least 13 vital factors, can help with their cognitive abilities. Since these factors are also adjustable, it means that each person has the ability to modify them, under the guidance of their healthcare practitioner of course, in order to help improve their brain health.

When considering brain health, many people’s first thoughts and concerns zero in on Alzheimer’s Disease, which is the most common type of dementia. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, there are over 50 million people all over the world that have been diagnosed with dementia. Meanwhile in the United States alone, around 6.2 million older adults in 2021 alone have Alzheimer’s.

Most people worry about such neurodegenerative conditions as they age, but they shouldn’t be the only reason why we should look out for our brain health. Because the brain naturally ages as people do, it’s normal for the brain to experience reduced brain mass as well as a spotty memory.

Thankfully, there are also ways to counter this and keep the brain sharp for a longer time, which may also help slow down the brain’s unavoidable decline. Notably, there are a number of key factors that can help keep the brain healthy throughout one’s life.


Cardiovascular Health and Brain Health are Connected

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is a large connection between heart health and brain health. In fact, they explain, “By keeping your heart healthy, you also lower your risk for brain problems such as stroke and dementia.” What this means is that when there is damage or hurt that happens to the heart and vascular system, it has adverse effects on the brain as well.

Back in 2017, the AHA released their Life’s Simple 7, which is basically a guide that lists the seven key factors to watch out when it comes to one’s cardiovascular health. Their list includes the following:

  1. Manage Blood Pressure
  2. Control Cholesterol
  3. Reduce Blood Sugar
  4. Get Active
  5. Eat Better
  6. Lose Weight
  7. Stop Smoking

The AHA also explains that high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), a poor diet, a high blood sugar, a high body mass index (BMI), smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle are all factors that leave one’s cardiovascular health in jeopardy.

Thankfully, these are all considered environmental factors which people can actually control and change if they want to.

In a scientific statement published in Stroke journal, the AHA confirm just how important all of these seven key factors are in order to keep both the cardiovascular system and the brain healthy.

According to Dr. Ronald M. Lazar, Ph.D., the Evelyn F. McKnight Endowed Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging, and director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, “Many people think of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other risk factors are affecting only heart health, yet these very same risk factors affect our brain health.”

Dr. Lazar, who also happens to be one of the first authors of the scientific statement shared in Stroke adds, “Patients might be more likely to pay attention to the importance of addressing modifiable risk factors if they understood the links.”


Prevention Shouldn’t Begin When You’re Older

The scientific statement gives guidelines for the primary care clinicians. They do this by providing them specific instructions of what to pay attention to when giving their patients advice on how to maintain or improve their brain health.

Dr. Lazar explains, “Primary care is the right home for practice-based efforts to prevent or postpone cognitive decline.”

He goes on to say, “Primary care professionals are most likely to identify and monitor risk factors early and throughout the lifespan. Prevention doesn’t start in older age; it exists along the healthcare continuum from pediatrics to adulthood. The evidence in this statement demonstrates that early attention to these factors improves later life outcomes.”

Aside from the guidelines provided by Life’s Simple 7, the statement authors felt that it was important to include six other key factors they consider vital for brain health.

They explain that these additional factors can be highly influential to the brain as time goes by. These are social isolation, sleep disorders, depression, hearing loss, alcohol use, and insufficient education.

Dr. Lazar also shares, “Studies have shown that these domains are impacted by factors that are within our control to change. Prevention and mitigation are important because once people have impaired cognition, the current treatment options are very limited.”

Dr. Lazar, as well as the other authors of the scientific statement, also explained that ‘research has linked depression to dementia and that isolation and loneliness are proven factors that contribute to cognitive decline.’

They share, “Excessive and prolonged alcohol use can lead to brain injury through neurotoxicity, nutritional deficiency, neuroinflammation, and changes in neurotransmitter systems.”

It’s important to point out that neurotransmitter systems are what make sure of communication between the brain cells, as well as aiding in the communication that goes on between the brain and the other cells within the body.

Unfortunately, poor sleep can occurs due to a number of sleep disorders, which can be the cause of a variety of forms of cognitive decline. As a matter of fact, the experts mention that a number of observational studies also corroborate this connection. They even gave an example of a previous research that proved how issues with insomnia actually advanced issues with vascular dementia.

The statement also notes that in another study, “age-related hearing loss was associated with both cognitive impairment and dementia.”

Meanwhile, the experts even distinguish the connection between those that have had less education with cognitive decline too. On the reverse, having a higher level of education seemingly helps maintain and protect one’s cognitive abilities. They also note that there is also data showing that it could “lead to greater cognitive reserve, which enables people to maintain cognitive function despite brain pathology.”


A Very Vital Aspect of Well-Being

Dr. Lazar also explains, “Scientists are learning more about how to prevent cognitive decline before changes to the brain have begun. We have compiled the latest research and found Life’s Simple 7 plus other factors, like sleep, mental health, and education, are a more comprehensive lifestyle strategy that optimizes brain health in addition to cardiovascular health.”

This is why certain practices and interventions that are done in the hopes of maintaining or improving brain health is so critical. The statement authors went on to write that ‘cognitive impairment can have a strong negative effect on a person’s quality of life.’

They even cite data which suggests that at least 1 in 5 people in the United States that are 65-years or older already dealing with mild cognitive impairment, which is notably a huge risk factor when it comes to developing dementia later on. Moreover, they also note that one of the most important things when it comes to how people think about their personal well-being and individual integrity is affected by how they think about their brain health as well.

Dr. Lazar reiterates, “I’ve given lectures, and what people tell me is: The one thing they do not want to lose during the course of their lives is their mind.”