Health Beat

Health Beat: Healthy heart, healthy brain

Health Beat: Healthy heart, healthy brain

CHICAGO - Whether you're pounding the pavement, hitting the gym, or pursuing another passion, exercise is something doctors say we should make a priority.

"Our goal was to look in young individuals and see if your health behaviors or your cardiovascular health in young adulthood could set you on the right path for cerebral health," explained Mike Bancks, an epidemiologist and researcher at Northwestern University who specializes in cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Turns out, it does.

Bancks and his colleagues studied the health histories of more than 500 people starting in their 20s and spanning 25 years. Scientists used seven heart-healthy steps as a guideline: body weight, smoking status, physical activity, diet, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.

"These are physical signs of damage to brain tissue," Bancks said.

Then, they measured brain volume, looking for the amount of healthy gray and white matter, and unhealthy white matter. The Northwestern researchers are among the first to show that people who had better heart health scores in their 20s had better brain volume in middle age.

"We found that a one unit increment in score was associated with the equivalence of being one year younger in age on the brain," continued Bancks.

Never too early to protect your heart and your head.

Bancks said the top two health changes to make right now if you want to protect your heart and brain are number one, avoid smoking, and two, aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every week.

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