Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Heart and Brain Connection

February is heart month. First, we have Valentine’s Day with heart-shaped reminders of love, and our thoughts turn to romance. With romantic love, sometimes the heart and brain may not seem to be connected. Our brain may tell us that we should or should not love someone, while a recalcitrant heart leads us in a different direction.

I attended an annual event Saturday that is much more geared to health than a box of Valentine candy—Go Red for Women. The room was filled with a veritable sea of ladies dressed in red. Sally Lockett, a local businesswoman, pulls this event together each year. We were entertained by a fashion show of vintage red dresses while we dined on a yummy, heart-healthy lunch.

Being so involved with the Alzheimer’s Association, I have long been aware that what is healthy for your heart is good for your brain. A healthy diet and exercise benefits both the heart and the brain.

The Alzheimer’s Association and the Centers for Disease Control collaborated on a report about the heart/brain connection. The Healthy Brain Initiative: A National Public Roadmap for Maintaining Cognitive Health lays the groundwork to promote brain health. Vascular health and cognitive health are intertwined. The Initiative’s goal: “To maintain or improve the cognitive performance of all adults.”

When you think about it, a healthy body improves quality of life. We would all rather be active throughout our lifetimes that suffer from declining health. When we indulge in unhealthy activities are risk factors for heart disease, mental decline, cancer, and numerous other issues that can go wrong as we age. Smoking, excessive drinking, overeating, or sedentary lifestyles can creep up on us as a major problem that predicts a bleak future instead of the one that we want.

Maybe we can’t change everything at once about our lives but right now is a good time to set personal goals to work toward heart health and improve our chances of maintaining cognitive throughout the years ahead.

Good for your heart—and also good for your brain:

• Exercise! Get up off the couch and move.

• Increase your nutritious food intake. Yes, I said increase. Fill up on fruits, vegetables, fish and lean poultry, and whole grains. You’ll eat a lot less unhealthy food. You can lose weight without going hungry.

• Drink in moderation.

• Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit. It’s healthier for you and everyone around you.

• Learn healthy methods of relaxation—meditation, exercise, massages to name a few.

• Exercise your brain by working puzzles, playing games, taking a class, reading, writing, or any activity that allows you to hone your cognitive skills.

• Increase social interaction—spend time with friends and family, church family, or volunteer.

• Good dental health is important. Get regular checkups and floss every day.

The list gives me ideas for ways I can personally reduce risk of developing debilitating conditions, but I haven’t been able to get my act together. When I had my gym membership, after my workout I was so hungry I couldn’t resist drive-thru windows. Now that I’m eating healthier, I don’t exercise enough.

I’ve managed to lose ten pounds by making better food choices and that in turn is snowballing into improving my overall health. Imagine my surprise when I went in to have my follow up endoscopy and the nurse asked, “Is your blood pressure always that low?” It was low enough that I hadn’t even recognized the numbers as blood pressure.

I’m a work in progress. My goal now is to make sure that I progress in the right direction. I know that if I put my heart into it, I can do it.

Copyright © 2012 L.S. Fisher
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