Healthy Heart, Healthy Brain


CHICAGO, Ill. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Exercise. Eat right. Manage stress. It’s advice we’ve heard for years as the best prescription for building a strong heart. But there’s new evidence suggesting that the activities keeping your heart healthy may also keep your brain young.

Whether you’re pounding the pavement … hitting the gym … or pursuing another passion … exercise is something doctors say we should make a priority.

Mike Bancks, PhD, Epidemiologist is a researcher at Northwestern University specializing in cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“Our goal was to look in young individuals and see if your health behaviors or your cardiovascular health in young adulthood could set you on the right path for cerebral health,” Bancks explained.

Turns out, it does. 

Bancks and his colleagues studied the health histories of more than five hundred people starting in their twenties and spanning 25 years. Scientists used seven heart-healthy steps as a guideline: body weight, smoking status, physical activity, diet, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.

Bancks says, “These are physical signs of damage to brain tissue.”

Then, they measured brain volume, looking for the amount of healthy grey and white matter, and unhealthy white matter. The Northwestern researchers are among the first to show that people who had better heart health scores in their twenties had better brain volume in middle age.

“We found that a one unit increment in score was associated with the equivalence of being one year younger in age on the brain,” continued Bancks.

Never too early to protect your heart and your head.

Professor Bancks says the top two health changes to make right now if you want to protect your heart and brain are number one, avoid smoking, and aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every week.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Bob Walko, Editor and Roque Correa, Videographer.

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BACKGROUND: Health conditions, your lifestyle, your age and family history can all increase your risk for heart disease. About 47 percent of Americans have at least one key risk factor for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. You can take steps to lower your risk by living a healthy lifestyle, such as keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar normal. There’s new evidence that suggests the activities keeping your heart healthy may also keep your brain young. Your brain determines every aspect of your life. Without it, there is no self and no awareness of the world. It is a three pound universe that processes 70,000 thoughts each day using 100 billion neurons that connect at more than 500 trillion points through synapses that travel 300 miles/hour. Throughout your life, your experiences create patterns of activity that explain how brains code thoughts, memories, skills and sense of self.

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HEART AND BRAIN HEALTH: The best way to look after your heart is with a healthy lifestyle. Learning how to manage your cholesterol and blood pressure is extremely important. Regular, moderate physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight is great for your heart health and can help reduce the risk of heart disease and other health problems. A healthy lifestyle includes eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity, not smoking or using other forms of tobacco, and limiting alcohol use. Brain health refers to the ability to remember, learn, play, concentrate and maintain a clear, active mind. It’s being able to draw on the strengths of your brain like information management, logic, judgment, perspective and wisdom. Simply, brain health is all about making the most of your brain and helping reduce some risks to it as you age. This process is called “brain plasticity”. As we experience the world, practice habits and learn new information, our brains change, grow new connections and repair broken ones. As we age, our experiences and knowledge keep our brains working, developing and learning.

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NEW LINK BETWEEN DIET AND BRAIN HEALTH: A study released in London conclusively links diet and Alzheimer’s disease, providing even more evidence that you can protect your brain by watching what you eat. At the recent Alzheimer Association’s International Conference in the U.K., researchers revealed that following either a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet or its close cousin, the MIND diet, can reduce future cognitive impairment by up to 35 percent. Although earlier studies had linked heart-healthy diets to better cognitive function, this study, by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, is important for having the size and type of subjects to conclusively link diet and Alzheimer’s and “make the results quite generalizable to a broader group,” says lead researcher, Claire McEvoy. While the two diets studied vary slightly, the main difference stems from MIND’s bigger emphasis on leafy green vegetables and its restriction on all fruit but berries. McEvoy says focusing on particular foods is not the point. “The diets as a whole seem to have the greatest benefit. Foods and nutrients seem to work together to provide the benefits.”


* For More Information, Contact:

Marla Paul, Public Relations Manager, Northwestern University