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Learn more about how to improve brain health, the habits that keep it healthy and the symptoms that deserve a call to your doctor.

June 10, 2024

Featuring Dr. Karla Maltez
WellMed at McKinney South
McKinney, Texas

In many ways, your brain makes you who you are. It allows you to take a walk, enjoy music and talk to a friend all at once. It powers your ability to think, learn and remember. And it helps you feel connected to the people around you.

“Healthy brains are just as important as healthy bodies. The brain is a complex organ that controls memory, emotions, motor skills, breathing and learning, among other things,” Karla Maltez, MD, says. She’s a family medical doctor at WellMed at McKinney South in McKinney, Texas. “Having a healthy brain is key to your overall health and well-being.”

How are your brain and your health connected?

They are deeply connected. In fact, if something is off in your body, it can affect your brain, and vice versa. Below are some examples.

Your heart and your brain

What’s good for your heart is good for your brain. A recent study found that heart disease led to a 40% higher risk of thinking problems and memory loss. And young people with high blood pressure were twice as likely to have memory loss with age. 1

Diabetes and your brain

Conditions such as diabetes (high blood sugar) can affect your brain health. The brain uses half of all the sugar in your blood for energy. If levels get too high or too low, you can have trouble with memory and learning, as well as mood swings and more.

Mental health and your brain

Though certain mental health problems start in the brain, you can feel them throughout the body. For instance, people with depression, bipolar disorder or seasonal affective disorder may also have stomach problems, extreme tiredness or headaches. And people who have anxiety may feel restless, tired, tense and have difficulty sleeping.


What kinds of habits support good brain health?

Your best bet? Choose healthier habits. “We need to make sure we get regular exercise, eat a healthier diet, keep up with hobbies we enjoy, maintain positive connections with friends and family, and make sure to get good sleep,” Dr. Maltez says. “This requires discipline, consistency and willpower to do it, but many people do not feel motivated to keep those habits for long periods of time.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these six healthy habits:2

Stop smoking. Not smoking is one of the best ways to lower your risk of dementia (memory loss). There’s a strong link between smoking and impaired thinking and memory problems. In fact, a recent study found that quitting smoking lowered the risk to close to the level of those who had never smoked.

Eat healthy. A 2020 study showed that eating low-fat foods significantly reduced the risk of thinking and memory problems.3 Dr. Maltez recommends the nutritarian diet. This diet consists of eating more plant-based food, avoiding animal products, and eating less processed foods, as they tend to be higher in added sugar, saturated fat and salt, and are lower in protein and fiber,” she says. Learn more about how to eat healthier.

Move more. “Exercise improves thinking, learning, problem-solving, cognition and much more,” Dr. Maltez says. In fact, too much sitting causes thinning of the area of the brain responsible for memory. In general, 30 to 45 minutes of daily exercise can help maximize your brain power, Dr. Maltez says. “For example, take a brisk walk, a bike ride, dance, weightlift, practice breathing exercises — just keep yourself moving!”

Manage your numbers. Body health is paramount to maintain brain function. “By managing conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and inflammation, we can delay or prevent short- and long-term complications that can lead to brain diseases like stroke, depression and cognitive or memory loss,” says Dr. Maltez. So see your doctor for checkups and keep tabs on your health numbers. And be sure to take any medications your doctor prescribes for you.

Get plenty of sleep. Those eight hours of shut-eye do more than just make you look rested. They help keep your brain healthy, too. A 2021 study found that the risk of dementia was twice as high among people who got fewer than five hours of sleep, compared with those who got seven to eight hours.4

“Every hour of sleep deprivation accumulates in sleep debt, a debt that we must pay back,” says Dr. Maltez. “Lack of sleep leads to neurological damage in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory. So an average of 7-8 hours of daily sleep or brain rest is recommended to maintain the ability to function well and perform daily tasks such as learning, problem solving, control of emotions and cognitive function.” Learn more about how sleep keeps you healthy and how to get the rest you need.

Connect with others. One of the pillars for wellbeing is positive connections. It feels good to have somebody you can count on. And it’s good for you. People with friends are not only healthier but also tend to live longer. And not having friends can literally make you sick. One research review found that loneliness raises your chance of heart disease by 29%. And it can increase your chances of having a stroke by 32%.5

Loneliness can directly impact your brain health, too. Researchers have connected it to poor thinking ability. One study found that people who were socially isolated had a 26% greater chance of developing dementia.6

It can take a little effort to make new friends as an adult, but the payoff can be well worth it. Any activity you can do with other people is a chance to meet someone you’ll connect with. If it’s hard to leave home or you’re just not a joiner, explore virtual activities. Working with a therapist online for just a few months can ease loneliness, too.

To read more WellMed health advice articles, visit


  1. Circulation. Heart disease and stroke statistics — 2022 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Published January 26, 2022. Accessed July 29, 2022.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy body, healthier brain. Last reviewed May 29, 2020. Accessed July 29, 2022.
  3. EClinicalMedicine. Low-fat dietary pattern and global cognitive function: exploratory analyses of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) randomized dietary modification trial. Published January 8, 2020. Accessed July 29, 2022.
  4. Aging. Examining sleep deficiency and disturbance and their risk for incident dementia and all-cause mortality in older adults across 5 years in the United States. Published February 11, 2021. Accessed July 29, 2022.
  5. Heart. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Published 2016. Accessed July 29, 2022.
  6. Neurology. Associations of social isolation and loneliness with later dementia. Published July 12, 2022. Accessed July 29, 2022.
Karla Maltez, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician who provides comprehensive medical care to adults of all ages. She speaks English and Spanish. She earned her Doctor of Medicine from the University of El Salvador and completed her residency in Family Medicine at Bon Secours St. Francis Family Medicine Residency program in Virginia. Dr. Maltez is committed to providing compassionate, patient-centered care and works with her patients to develop individualized treatment plans that address their specific needs and concerns.

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