February is Heart Health Awareness Month! The American Heart Association recommends that you adopt a long-term, heart-healthy “food lifestyle” and exercise. Bonus time, once you do that, you have a double win, because these same foods will support a healthy brain. Yes, the two are connected! Simple smart food choices will reduce your risks for strokes and other diseases. Strokes develop because of compromised blood flow to the brain (by a clot or hemorrhage) and despite the severity they are linked to dementia. Brain autopsy studies on deceased individuals with dementia found microvascular infarcts, either alone or along with the plagues and tangles, such as those associated with Alzheimer’s. With the facts on the table, it’s clear that the best defense against heart and brain disease are healthy food choices and exercise. What are the healthiest food choices? Well, the first choice for many is the “Mediterranean diet,” but what is it really? Let’s look at the basics.
- Eat Mainly:Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.
- Eat in Moderation:Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt.
- Eat Only Rarely:Red meat.
- Don’t Eat:Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods
What about exercise and its role in a healthy heart and your brain? For starters, research backs the mind and body connection. It appears that exercise benefits one’s cognition (reasoning and perception), particularly in areas of executive functioning, associated with improvements in attention, working memory and the ability to multitask. So, what happens to the brain when we work out? First, exercise triggers the production of a protein called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” or BDNF. This protein helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones! As we age, the BDNF levels decline, exercise regardless of age, increases the BNDF process. In addition to this, blood flow which carries oxygen and feeds neural tissues, increase in brain. So the best advice for living to a healthy old age is to eat healthy and exercise. The good news, is that you can begin a healthy lifestyle today by making smart and healthy food choices and adding exercise to your daily routine. Stay tune – next month is Nutrition Awareness Month, and we have tons of tips to keep you healthy – and change your life!