Blood vessel problems such as fatty plaque buildup in arteries or stiffening of the arteries are well-known contributors to heart disease—but they can damage brain function as well. That means that keeping your heart healthy will also help keep your cognitive abilities sharp.

“An estimated one-third of all cases of dementia, including those identified as Alzheimer’s, can be attributed to vascular factors,” said Albert Hofman, chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a Nov. 9, 2016 Harvard Health Blog post.

Tiny blockages in the brain’s small vessels can lead to subtle, “silent” strokes. Blood clots in major arteries can lead to an overt stroke, in which large portions of brain tissue die. Both types of stroke can lead to dementia.

Reducing your cardiovascular risks by getting regular physical activity, quitting smoking, managing blood sugar and cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight are all key to keeping your heart healthy—and your brain too. It’s also important to keep high blood pressure, the leading cause of stroke, in check.

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