We’ve been teaching Rowan that song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” She loves it!
Even at 2, the idea that parts of our bodies work together is apparently obvious.
Sure, all the systems of the body are connected — some directly, but all to a degree since they share a common circulation and are affected by the actions of the same endocrine and nervous systems. Health depends on all these systems working together and interacting effectively.
For thousands of years, practices like yoga have stressed the connection between the mind and the body. Looks like the yogis were right.
A recent study from the American Heart Association shows that brain health and dementia are related to the same seven factors we’ve focused on in this column over the years when we review heart-healthy behaviors. These seven preventive practices, which they call “Life’s Simple 7,” will not only ensure heart health but may help avoid dementia later in life.
These seven health practices help minimize atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries, which occurs as you age. As these deposits, or plaques, grow in the arteries in various parts of your body, they interfere with blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and fuel to your organs.
Bad health habits can accelerate plaque buildup in the brain and contribute to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The “Simple 7” can keep your cardiovascular system and brain healthy — as well as the rest of your body.
Here are seven things to focus on to help keep your brain healthy as you age:
Quit smoking (or don’t start)
Smoking causes cancer, as well as a number of serious health issues.
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body. Apart from causing cancer and injuring your lungs, it can damage the arteries in your brain causing atherosclerosis, which could lead to a stroke or dementia.
Lose extra weight
While a few extra pounds may not seem like a big deal, you’re better off without them.
All that extra weight makes your organs work harder. We’re just starting to understand the bad chemical and endocrine effects obesity has as well.
Get physically active
Physical activity is one way to avoid heart disease and dementia, maintain a healthy weight, and stave off other diseases.
One of the best ways to keep your whole body healthy is to exercise regularly. That doesn’t mean you need to become a “gym rat,” but it does mean making a physical commitment to your health. You should aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise three to five days a week. Do anything physical you enjoy and can keep at!
Keep blood sugar normal
If you’ve read this column before, you’ve likely heard the term blood sugar or blood glucose. Sugar that you eat and drink throughout the day is converted into glucose. When left unchecked, high blood sugar contributes to atherosclerosis.
For people without diabetes, blood sugar typically varies between 70 and 140 mg/dL. This is considered a normal and healthy range. Blood sugar can be regulated by eating a healthy and consistent diet and with exercise.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that helps with the normal functioning of your body. Keeping your bad cholesterol low can help ensure good brain health.
Cholesterol is important. It’s in our food, and we need it to survive. Too much cholesterol is a problem, however. Cholesterol can build up in your arteries causing them to stiffen and narrow. Monitor your cholesterol with your doctor and avoid overdoing it with high-cholesterol foods such as red meat.
Manage blood pressure
Blood pressure is a measurement of how the blood is being pushed through your circulatory system. High blood pressure can be a sign that the artery walls are hardening and that the heart is working too hard. High blood pressure can be an inherited trait but is worsened by high levels of stress, excess salt, extra weight, smoking and inactivity, and it leads to heart disease.
To keep blood pressure down, maintain a good diet and exercise regimen. Practice mindfulness and keep your stress level low.
Eat a healthy diet
“Put good in, get good out” is a fitting adage for why a good diet is important. Much like an engine, the quality of fuel determines how well the engine can perform and its lifespan. A healthy diet influences everything in your body. It is one of the most important factors for a healthy body and mind.
Eat all foods in moderation and try to balance eating the main food groups. We’re going to spend a good bit of time in future columns talking about food as medicine.