How a stronger brain will give you a stronger heart

September 28, 2015

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

How a stronger brain will give you a stronger heart

Know your facts

  • Scientists know that people whose mental function declines as they get older have a higher risk of coronary artery disease.
  • But until recently, it was not clear whether the same mechanism — atherosclerosis — underlies both heart attack risk and reduction in cognitive ability.
  • Now researchers from Britain's University of Bristol have a possible answer. They studied data from more than 11,000 people born in the United Kingdom in the early 1950s, whose intelligence was measured at the ages of seven, nine and 11 and who were followed into adulthood.
  • The study strongly suggests that keeping your brain agile in adulthood has a greater effect on your cardiovascular health than anything in your background, and is a further key to avoiding heart attacks and strokes.
  • Keeping your brain agile by giving it plenty to do could help stave off cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.

Mind over matter

  • Your brain might have even more sway over your cardiovascular health. The healthier you believe yourself to be, the less likely you are to die prematurely — no matter how healthy you actually are.
  • One of the earliest studies to highlight this phenomenon used data from a survey of 7,000 older people in California in 1965, and compared their own reports on their health with mortality levels over the next nine years.
  • Men who initially reported their health as "poor" were more than twice as likely to have died as those who said their health was "excellent," even after the data had been adjusted to take account of age, physical health status, health practices, health relative to people of the same age, income, level of education, social and psychological factors.
  • The outcome for women was even more startling. Women who saw themselves as being in poor health were more than five times as likely to die as those who thought they were healthy, irrespective of their actual health status.
  • Other research has demonstrated that men who believe themselves to be at lower-than-average risk of cardiovascular disease actually had a three-fold lower risk of death from heart attacks and strokes over the following 15 years, even though almost half of them would have been classified medically as being at high or very high risk.
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