By Mia Syn, MS, RD
A healthy diet and lifestyle are essential for keeping the brain and heart functioning at their peak. A healthy brain allows us to solve problems, communicate and recall memories, while a healthy heart does the vital role of supplying oxygen and nutrients to our tissues. Here are four factors that contribute to a healthy heart and brain:
It’s no secret that exercise is key to good health – especially when it comes to the brain and heart. About 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise can improve cardiovascular health according to the American Heart Association. Not only does it aid weight management, the benefits extend to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol – two other markers of heart health.
When it comes to the brain, exercise helps with memory and cognition. In fact, studies suggest that parts of that brain that control thinking and memory are larger in individuals who exercise compared to those who don’t. (4) Exercise stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells and the growth of new blood vessels. (4) Regular movement also improves mood, promotes a restful night’s sleep and reduces stress and anxiety. (4)
- Consume Resveratrol
Resveratrol is a compound found naturally in foods like peanuts, grapes and red wine. Initially, researchers attributed this compound to be responsible for the beneficial cardiovascular effects of red wine. (1) This is good news for those who already consume alcohol in moderation, which is up to one drink per day for adult women and two drinks per day for adult men.
One recent study showed that resveratrol can modulate the composition of the gut microbiota and may affect central energy metabolism and modify concentrations of satiety hormones to promote anti-obesity. (2) In other words, resveratrol may be able to promote sensations of fullness after a meal and prevent over eating which in turn can lead to weight loss in overweight individuals.
It is clear that obesity increases ones risk for cardiovascular disease but it also affects the brain as well. A study conducted at UCLA found that obese individuals, on average, have 8 percent less brain tissue than individuals at a normal weight and overweight people have 4 percent less. This loss of tissue can deplete cognitive reserves and put one at greater risk of Alzheimer’s and other diseases that affect the brain. (3) Therefore, keeping weight in check is important for both the brain and heart.
- Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Antioxidants are substances found naturally in fruit and vegetables, and especially concentrated in berries and leafy greens. These compounds protect cells from free radical damage. Free radicals are produced continuously and are a normal part of cellular functioning and metabolism but excess production may play a role in conditions like atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, consuming antioxidant-rich food may help slow brain aging and protect against heart disease.
- Choose good fats
Replacing the bad fats with the good ones may help protect your brain and your heart. Good fats include mono- and poly-unsaturated fats like those found in avocado, nuts and seeds as well as omega-3 fats like those found in salmon. Saturated fat like that found in red meat should be avoided in excess since high levels of consumption have been linked to heart disease.
A Brigham and Women’s Hospital study published in Annals of Neurology analyzed food surveys of more than 6,000 older women and results of the cognitive tests over time. What seems to affect women’s brain function was not total fat but the type. Those with the most saturated fat like that found in butter and red meat in their diets performed the worst while those who incorporated foods like olive oil, nuts and avocado, performed best. (4)
- lpi.oregonstate.edu [Internet]. Corvallis: Linus Pauling Institute; c2017 [cited 2017 Dec 18]. Available from: http://www.lpi.oregonstate.edu.
- Bird JK., Raederstorff D., Weber P., et al. Cardiovascular and Antiobesity Effects of Resveratrol Mediated through the Gut Microbiota. Adv Nutr. 2017;8:839-49.
- Ho AJ., Raji CA., Becker JT, et al. Obesity is linked with lower brain volume in 700 AD and MCI patients. Neurobiol Aging. 2010;31(8):1326-39.
- health.harvard.edu [Internet]. Cambridge: Harvard Health Publishing; c2017 [cited 2017 Dec 18]. Available from: http://www.health.harvard.edu.