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Another Reason to Exercise: Hardening of the Arteries Shown to Increase the Likelihood of Developing Dementia

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A new study published in mid-October in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has given us all an even greater incentive to eat right, exercise and watch our blood pressure. Researchers have now found convincing evidence that hardening of the arteries, commonly called “atherosclerosis,” significantly increases the risk of developing dementia. The study was the subject of this article we discovered on the HealthDay website.

Hardening of the Arteries Boosts Dementia Risk 60 Percent

In the study, researchers tracked more than 350 seniors in Pittsburgh over the course of 15 years. The average age of study subjects was 78. While the study did not prove conclusively that hardening of the arteries causes dementia, the correlation was striking: “those seniors with higher levels of arterial stiffness were 60 percent more likely to develop dementia than those with lower levels,” HealthDay reports. Arterial stiffness turned out to be an even more accurate predictor of cognitive decline that the typical signs of impairment that doctors are trained to look for.

What is atherosclerosis, and how can a person prevent it? We found this description on a website called Healthline, which called hardening of the arteries “a serious and life-threatening condition” that “starts slowly and progresses over time.” Excess cholesterol collects on the arterial walls, which causes the body to respond by sending white blood cells to attack the cholesterol.  As this process continues and worsens, irritation and scarring eventually develop, by which time the build-up called plaque has hardened, restricting blood flow and potentially triggering a heart attack or stroke. Getting plenty of exercise, controlling blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight are all proven ways to keep our arteries healthy, as is controlling cholesterol levels (which explains why more than one-quarter of U.S. adults over 40 are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins).

Subtle but Very Real Damage

The relationship between atherosclerosis and dementia is subtle, but very real, say the researchers quoted in HealthDay. As University of Pittsburgh epidemiology professor Rachel Mackey explained, “As the large arteries get stiffer, their ability to cushion the pumping of blood from the heart is diminished, and that transmits increased pulsing force to the brain, which contributes to silent brain damage that increases dementia risk.” She says doctors have known for some time that hardening or stiffening of the arteries can cause subtle damage to the brain, but this is the first study linking unhealthy arteries with the onset of dementia.

Can Hardening of the Arteries be Reversed?

We know now about the dangers of atherosclerosis to the brain, but there seems to be less agreement on whether or not hardening of the arteries can be reversed. The HealthDay article sounds optimistic on that score. “The good news,” says the report, “is that arterial stiffness can be reduced by taking drugs to treat high blood pressure and by making lifestyle changes, the researchers said. For example, the study found that exercise at an average age of 73 was associated with lower arterial stiffness five years later.”  But other publications and resources we checked out for this article dispute that claim. The Healthline article, for example, says that “once you’re diagnosed with atherosclerosis, the most you can do is make the disease less dangerous” through a combination of medical treatment and lifestyle changes. A government-sponsored website called MedlinePlus agrees. “Hardening of the arteries cannot be reversed once it has occurred,” it states. “However, lifestyle changes and treating high cholesterol levels can prevent or slow the process from becoming worse. This can help reduce the chances of having a heart attack and stroke as a result of atherosclerosis.” If that’s the case, these changes can also help preserve your cognitive health.

No matter how old you are, you owe it to yourself and to those you love to take good care of your body and your mind. There are certainly factors beyond our control when it comes to our health, such as hereditary problems and illnesses that seem to come out of the blue – but the tragic fact us that most people suffer from health problems that could have been prevented or minimized through better choices earlier in life. Lack of physical activity, poor nutritional habits, obesity and smoking have ruined the health of millions of American seniors, and their adult kids will be the ones to bear the burden of their care as they get sicker. No one wants to be a burden to those they love! We urge you to take steps now to change your lifestyle in order to live healthier, happier and longer. A great place to start would be to place yourself in the hands of a board-certified geriatrician, a health care professional who understands the special needs of senior adults. The right health care professional can get you on the proper course to better health.

Avoid the “Rocks” on Your Retirement Voyage

Speaking of staying on the right course, how is your “retirement voyage”? Are you on course or are you heading for rocky shoals? If you’re ready to take charge of your retirement preparation, the professional team at AgingOptions is ready to help. When you experience our unique and comprehensive approach to retirement planning, which we call LifePlanning, you’ll appreciate just how powerful it is, because with LifePlanning all the essential elements of retirement work together: your finances, your housing choices, your medical coverage, your legal protection, and your family communication. The absolute key to enjoying a secure and fruitful retirement is a good, solid plan, and that means an AgingOptions LifePlan.

We invite you to come join Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar where he can tell you more and answer your questions, without any obligation. Invest just a few hours and your eyes will be opened to a new way of thinking about your retirement. For dates, times and locations of upcoming seminars, visit our Live Events page and reserve your place online for the event of your choice. Don’t settle for an unhealthy, inadequate retirement plan! Take control of your future with an AgingOptions LifePlan.  Age on!

(originally reported at

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