The Surprising Link Between Your Calf Muscles and Dementia

Link between your calf muscles and dementia
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As we age, we tend to lose our memory. You might associate cognitive decline and dementia as a normal part of aging. 

Although there are normal cognitive changes that occur with age, dementia is not one of them. So, what determines who is going to suffer from dementia and who is not?

Did you know there’s a connection between our brain and our calf strength? Cognitive decline may seem inevitable with older age, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Recent research has found an association between calf strength and blood pressure. It’s believed these can determine our risk for developing cognitive disorders, like dementia. Let’s take a deeper look. 

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Blood Pressure and Brain Function

When you go to a physical at your doctor’s office, you will notice them checking your blood pressure levels. 

This is the amount of pressure your heart uses to push blood to different parts of the body. We often hear about the dangers of high blood pressure for heart health. 

But, low blood pressure may be a concern for our brain health.

 Recent studies have found low blood pressure to be a predictor of cognitive decline. That makes it a risk factor for dementia in older individuals. 

When our blood pressure is low, we have decreased blood flow to areas of our brain when we are sitting or standing. With a lack of blood flow comes a lack of oxygen and essential nutrients to support the function of our brain (1).

Restriction of these nutrients can cause irreversible damage to our brains as we age. On the flip side, elevated blood pressure can also increase your risk for dementia. High blood pressure can damage the fragile blood vessels in your brain. This can affect the part of the brain that we use for memory and critical thinking (2). 

Blood pressure can play a significant factor in the health of our brains. So, how can we avoid this? Maintaining a healthy blood pressure range is easier said than done. 

If you suffer from irregular blood pressure, speak with your doctor about treatment options. Those with high blood pressure may be able to treat it with lifestyle changes. Weight loss, cutting out salt, eating a balanced diet, and incorporating regular exercise can help.

Where Do Our Calf Muscles Fit In?

relationship-between-your-calf-muscles-and-dementia
Image // Theladders.com

If blood pressure may be the hidden culprit to dementia risk, where do our calf muscles fit in? Low blood pressure can have many causes. The most common cause is low cardiac output. 

This means your heart is not pumping enough blood as it needs. This means not enough is being returned to the heart from the lower body.

The soleus muscle in our calf is responsible for pumping blood back up to our heart when contracted. This is the muscle that runs from the back of our knee to our ankle. 

It sits beneath our gastrocnemius. When this muscle is weakened, it can increase our risk for stroke and other health concerns. Common causes of muscle weakness or loss in this area include a sedentary lifestyle, spinal cord injury, and malnutrition (3).

How to Reduce Your Risk

Aside from keeping your blood pressure in tip-top shape, maintaining the strength of your calf muscles is crucial. Maintaining muscle strength throughout age can help to prevent a variety of different age-related issues. It can also increase our quality of life. So, how can we do this?

As we get older, certain conditions can cause us to decrease our activity level. Age-related muscle loss is a common cause of an increase in sedentary lifestyles in the elderly. To combat this, it’s important to maintain regular physical activity as you age. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults 65 and older get moving. Getting in 75-150 minutes of moderate-vigorous intensity activity each week along with two days of strength training is all you need. 

Strength training exercises should work each major muscle group – legs, hips, back, abs, chest, shoulders, and arms (4).

Bottom Line

Maintaining a healthy blood pressure range and regular activity throughout age can reduce your risk for cognitive decline. With adequate blood pressure to pump to your brain and strong muscles to help with circulating the blood, you can cut your dementia risk down. 

You will also cut down your risk of developing other health conditions that might arise from frailty and blood pressure imbalance. 

If you feel you have any of these conditions or concerns, speak with your health care provider about treatment options. Always get clearance from your doctor before starting an exercise routine. 

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Meghan Stoops, RD

Meghan is a Registered Dietitian and freelance content writer in the beautiful New Smyrna Beach, Florida. She takes an all-foods-fit approach to nutrition and is dedicated to freeing others from diet culture and simplifying healthy eating.

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