Sharp Mind, Healthy Heart

I think any of us would do whatever we could to avoid memory issues as we age. So what, if anything, can women do now to support mental acuity later in life?

Numerous studies have shown that women with cardiovascular disease (CVD) are at a higher risk for dementia and memory loss as they age. There is added complexity due to the hormonal decline they incur in perimenopause and menopause that may also affect cognitive function.1,2 This may be due to lower endogenous estrogen levels after menopause.3 Estrogen has a neuro-protective effect on the brain by promoting blood flow, specific dendritic formation, and axon sprouting.4 Studies have associated lower levels of estrogen with decreased cognitive abilities.

Additional comorbid conditions that could affect cognitive function include history of diabetes, prior stroke or early Alzheimer’s Disease.4 Research indicates that hypertension, diabetes and obesity increase the risk for cognitive decline, particularly in women.  Cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis have also been shown to affect cognition as these conditions may reduce blood flow to the brain.4

Diet plays an important role in cardiovascular and metabolic health. Eating a “Whole Foods” diet that minimizes processed foods and sugar has been shown to reduce chances of developing diabetes, hypertension, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. The American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines recommend eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts.2

Exercise also has an important role in good heart health and keeps chronic conditions from developing and progressing and therefore cognitive function in the present and future. The AHA recommendations include 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, which is actually only 30 minutes per day, five times a week.2 Moderate exercise can be as simple as brisk walking, lawn mowing, gardening etc. Aerobic exercises, which include fast walking, cycling, dancing or swimming are more vigorous activities and can be done for 75 minutes three times a week.

There are also many nutritional supplements that may help women during the menopause transition and beyond that support a healthy heart such as fish oils, rheum rhaptonticum, black cohosh, red clover, and ginseng.5 The level of research for effectiveness and safety vary so it is important to seek out a health professional that can individualize supplement routines that correspond to lifestyle and activity levels.

Most importantly women experiencing or nearing menopause, and their clinicians, need to understand the choices they can make now, such as whole food diets and utilizing appropriate exercise routines can impact their overall health—including their memory and mental acuteness later in life.


  1. Haring B, Leng X, Robinson J, et al. Cardiovascular Disease and Cognitive Decline in Postmenopausal Women: Results From the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2013;2(6). doi:10.1161/jaha.113.000369.
  1. Menopause and Heart Disease. Menopause and Heart Disease. Accessed February 10, 2017.
  1. Robusto-Leitao1 O, Ferreira H. Hormones and dementia – a comparative study of hormonal impairment in post-menopausal women, with and without dementia. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2006;2(2):199-206. doi:10.2147/nedt.2006.2.2.199.
  1. Shumaker SA, Legault C, Rapp SR, et al. Estrogen plus Progestin and the incidence of dementia and mild cognitive impairment in Postmenopausal women. JAMA. 2003;289(20):2651. doi:10.1001/jama.289.20.2651.
  1. Geller SE, Studee L. Botanical and Dietary Supplements for Menopausal Symptoms: What Works, What Does Not. Journal of Women’s Health. 2005;14(7):634-649.

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