February is American Heart Month. In honor of our cardiovascular health, we are going to talk about the connection between our heart and brain, and how keeping your heart healthy may ward off dementia and other brain diseases.
You may not realize it, but your heart and brain are connected. Doing things to keep your heart healthy, such as eating a balanced diet, exercise and practicing good habits, directly affect your brain. It is almost like a two-for-one deal, which can be good or bad, depending on your choices. The choices you make today shape your future and how well you will age. There are four main areas that we will focus on: exercise, diet, cognitive activity and social engagement.
We tend to think of our body and heart as the main beneficiaries of regular exercise. But, the body and heart are not the only parts of us that benefit. Since our heart and brain health are directly connected, your brain also benefits from regular exercise.
Aim for 20 minutes of physical activity every day. There is no need to get stressed out about this. No one is saying to join your nearest gym and start bodybuilding. You do not have to train for a marathon or play competitive tennis.
Simply parking a little further away when you go to the grocery store, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, counts towards your 20 minutes of activity. Start a routine of walking your dog everyday. Dogs easily get into the “go-for-a-walk” routine and will hold you accountable for their daily walk. Breaking it up can make it easier to include in your daily routine. Whatever activity you decide to do, enjoy it while you are at it. It is your time, reserved for only you, your heart and your brain.
There is no better time to begin including exercise in your routine than right now. However, be sure to consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program and make sure you are wearing protective gear (bike helmet) if you are engaged in activities that might pose a little risk.
It is often said that ‘you are what you eat’. What we put into our body is what we get back in the form of energy, or lack thereof. Diet can affect the appearance of your skin, your immune system, and of course, your heart and brain. Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains is recommended by health experts. Include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that are found in fish and vegetable oils. Stay away from saturated fats, processed foods, deep fried foods and excess sugar and salt.
If you are unsure of what foods are healthy, speak with a nutritionist. Certain diets such as a Mediterranean Diet have shown many health benefits.
If you use alcohol and/or tobacco, consider quitting. Alcohol and tobacco use has been shown to have many negative consequences for your brain. If quitting is not likely for you, even slowing down a bit can have positive effects. To find out about programs in your area to help you quit smoking call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Give your brain a workout and never stop learning. Your brain, like your muscles, will atrophy if inactive. Find new and challenging ways to use your mind to keep your mind active.
There are endless ways to challenge yourself and keep your mind active.