How a stronger brain can give you a stronger heart

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Continuing to be mentally active can help to delay cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia. In fact, mental exercise, like physical exercise, seems to have a protective effect. But did you know that exercising your mental muscle helps to prevent cardiovascular disease?

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Know the facts

  • Scientists know that people whose mental function declines with aging are at higher risk of coronary heart disease.
  • But until recently, it was difficult to know whether the same mechanism, atherosclerosis, underlies both the risk of heart attack and the reduction of cognitive capacity.
  • Researchers at the British University of Bristol now have a possible answer. They studied data from more than 11,000 people born in the United Kingdom in the 1950s, whose intelligence was measured at the ages of 7, 9 and 11 and followed through to adulthood.
  • The study strongly suggests that maintaining the agility of your brain in adulthood has a greater effect on your cardiovascular health than any other factor and is an additional key to preventing heart attacks and strokes.
  • Keeping your brain agile by giving it a lot to do could help prevent cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.

The mind beyond matter

  • Your brain could have even more control over your cardiovascular health. The healthier you think you are, the less likely you are to die prematurely, regardless of your actual health status.
  • One of the first studies to highlight this phenomenon used data from a survey of 7,000 elderly people in California in 1965, and compared their own health reports with mortality rates for the next nine years.
  • Men who initially reported having “poor” health were more than twice as likely to die as those who reported their health as “excellent”, even after the data were adjusted for age, physical health status, health practices, health compared to people of the same age, income, education level and social and psychological factors.
  • The results for women were even more surprising. Women who considered themselves to be in poor health were more than five times more likely to die than those who thought they were in good health, regardless of their actual health status.
  • Other research has shown that men who thought they were at lower than average risk of cardiovascular disease did have a three times lower risk of dying from heart attack or stroke over the next 15 years, although almost half of them would have been medically classified as at high or very high risk.

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