Health Tips | How to keep heart- and brain-healthy and raise a healthier child

December 17, 2010 by David Despain

Bridging heart and mind

Stay heart-healthy to keep the brain healthy. Heart attacks and Alzheimer’s disease share a common genetic basis. Keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control to ward off both [Università di Bologna].

Increase your levels of HDL cholesterol. This “good” cholesterol, which is heart-healthy, also reduces risk of Alzheimer’s disease when you’re older [Archives of Neurology]. To raise HDL levels, eat foods containing monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil) [CMAJ]. Also, lose weight, exercise regularly (30 minutes a day), avoid trans fats, stop smoking, drink alcohol in moderation, and eat a diet high in soluble fiber [Mayo Clinic].

Learn to manage stress. If you don’t respond to stress well, you’re more likely to be depressed, and turn to addictive behaviors (such as tobacco and alcohol). You’re also at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke [University of Birmingham].

Don’t skip breakfast. It’s important to fuel your brain in the morning to think clearly and, over time, avoid altering your metabolism, which can lead to greater risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease [Am J Clin Nutr].

Eat magnesium-rich foods such as fish, leafy vegetables, and nuts. Magnesium helps regulate heart rhythm and reduces risk of sudden cardiac death [Am J Clin Nutr].

Beauty and brain power

Eat blueberries and drink green tea. They contain antioxidants that bind to iron tightly to help prevent toxic reactions that cause destruction of cells and tissues, which lead to Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s disease [Arch Toxicol].

Eat creatine for cognitive skills. Creatine (found in red meat and fish) boosts brain performance and memory [Brit J Nutr].

Get your beauty sleep. Yes, there is such a thing. People who are sleep-deprived appear less healthy (because they are less healthy) and less attractive [BMJ].

Maintain muscle with omega-3 fatty acids. They don’t help weight loss [Am J Clin Nutr], but they do help avoid muscle loss with age [Am J Clin Nutr].

Child health

If you live in an apartment complex, don’t expose your child to secondhand smoke. Living in the same building with smokers can contribute to exposure, despite non-smoking parents [University of Rochester].

Encourage toddlers to reduce salt on pasta, but not necessarily on vegetables and tomatoes. Avoiding salt on fruits and veggies may discourage the child from eating these nutrient-dense foods, leading to less intake [Brit J Nutr]. Children who dislike eating fruits and vegetables are 13 times more likely to have gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation [J Clin Nurs].

Colon cancer prevention

Try a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan. The DASH diet — high intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and low fat dairy, and lower amounts of processed meats, sodium, and sweetened drinks – leads to decreased blood pressure and lower risk of colorectal cancer [Am J Clin Nutr].

Avoid high amounts of folate (folic acid) in your diet if you’re prone to pre-cancerous colon polyps; it helps avoid increased risk of colon cancer [CMAJ].

Diabetes care

How much exercise? New recommendations from the American Diabetes Association and the American College of Sports Medicine: exercise at least three times a week; try to achieve a total of 150 minutes a week, spread over the week [Diabetes Care].

Ask your doctor about a disease-management program. It’s more effective than traditional diabetes care because they include patient education, psychological intervention, self-monitoring, and telemedicine [CMAJ].

Drink green tea to prevent type-1 diabetes. It contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which reduces the risk of developing the autoimmune disease (in rats) [Br J Nutr].