Many of us know the importance of paying careful attention to our blood pressure for its role in cardiovascular health. What is less well known is that factors impacting our heart health can also affect our cerebrovascular system and brain health. Healthy brain functions are dependent on a good continuous blood supply.
Recent research suggests that hypertension can be associated with compromised integrity to the blood vessels and altered blood flow to the brain. Changes in the brain can be observed over time on imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and appear as “spots” called white matter hyperintensities. These “spots” represent areas of cellular damage in the white matter of our brains, the cabling that sends signals over long distances to other parts of our brain and down the spinal cord. In some people, hypertension and white matter hyperintensities are associated with changes in cognitive functioning and can increase our risk for “accelerated brain aging.”
Research supports careful management of hypertension for brain health. It is also helpful to monitor psychological health and treat symptoms of depression and anxiety. It is important to appreciate that physical exercise is not only beneficial for cardiac health, it is also good for psychological health and brain health.