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Lifestyle 1 - Love Your Heart

Words Love your heart - Cartoon of a stethescope in shape of heartWhen it comes to life, do you follow your head or your heart? Well did you know – your heart health and brain health are closely connected, and if you look after your heart your head will follow?

Let’s think about this. Your brain uses more energy than any other organ in your body and what brings the energy to the brain is blood. So every time your heart beats, 20-25 per cent of your blood supply is pumped to your brain through a rich network of blood vessels.

In fact, the billions of neurons in your brain use about one fifth of the oxygen and nutrients circulating in your blood at any one time.

Most of this fuel is used by brain cells to communicate with each other and with the rest of your body via electrical impulses. But about a third of the fuel is needed just to maintain the health of your brain cells and to keep your brain tissue alive.

Healthy heart habits like not smoking, being physically active, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and managing your blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels will help to ensure that your heart pumps well and keeps your brain in good shape.

Making unhealthy choices can lead to narrowing of your blood vessels and over time hardening of the arteries in your body and in your brain.

This is bad news: your brain relies very heavily on your heart to do its job efficiently and effectively. Without an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients, your brain will begin to malfunction and your cognitive function will deteriorate. And then there’s the worst-case scenario: if the brain is suddenly deprived of oxygen you will have a stroke.

So here’s how you can show your heart some love:

Quit Smoking

Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body. It kills people, and it kills brain cells. It has long been associated with poor heart health, cancer and lung disease. But did you know that smoking has also been linked with decreased brain volume and increased cognitive problems in people with MS?

Cigarette smoking is also linked to higher relapse rates, increased progression of disability and reduced survival in people with MS. Research shows that smokers have thinner cortices (outer layers of the brain) than non-smokers. The longer you smoke the thinner your cortex gets. You need your cortex to think, to speak, to act and to process information, so shrinking it through smoking is not smart.

There is good news though for those who quit smoking, even after damage has been done. It seems that the brain can sometimes repair itself, provided you quit.

Researchers found that the brain cortex of former smokers increased each year that they stayed smoke free.

Check your health

When you have MS it can be easy to forget that MS doesn’t makes you immune to other diseases and conditions. Yet conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease can worsen the course of MS.

So its really important to actively monitor and managing your health.

One simple thing that you can do is to get your blood pressure tested.

High blood pressure (hypertension) has been dubbed the ‘silent killer’ because so many people are unaware that they have it, and because there are no visible symptoms.

And there’s more: poorly managed mid-life hypertension has been linked to an increased risk for developing dementia in later life.

So visit your health professional, get your blood pressure tested and if you have high blood pressure then follow the medical advice to manage your hypertension and reduce your risk.

There are lots of ways you can help to protect your health when you have MS. Managing hypertension, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, managing stress and limiting alcohol consumption, takeaways and processed foods can all help to keep your cholesterol in check and reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

Shop for your brain

We are what we eat – and that counts for your brain too! A healthy diet is yet another enjoyable way to boost brain reserves. A balanced diet also helps your heart, which in turn helps your brain.

Your brain and heart do well on a diet low in saturated fats and high in brightly coloured fruits and green vegetables. And eating more oily fish lubricates our brain; these foods are rich in a type of fat called omega-3, which appear to dampen down inflammation in the brain while bumping up the birth of new brain cells.

The Mediterranean-style menu is a good foundation for healthy eating. Do you think you could grow accustomed to a diet with lots of fruit, veg, beans, peas and complex carbs, with moderate amounts of fish? Following a Mediterranean diet also means taking olive oil as a main source of fat and (for adults who consume alcohol) drinking a small glass of red wine during dinner – that doesn’t sound too difficult does it?

Your brain, just like Popeye, gets a great boost from iron. That’s because your brain needs oxygen to work well. Blood carries oxygen to your brain cells, and that process needs iron. So top up on iron-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables like spinach, fortified cereal, dried fruit and pulses like baked beans.

And remember, there are no solo nutrients that can carry the show alone for brain health. It is best to tap to the beat of an orchestra of nutrients from a variety of food types.

Get Physical

Being physically inactive increases your risk of developing heart disease, and this in turn can affect brain health.

Did you know that aerobic fitness in MS has been linked to faster information processing and preserved tissue volume? One possible reason for this is that physical exercise helps to grow brain connections and is linked with better cognitive function and increased activity in brain cells involved in attention.

Physical activity is also linked with reduced levels of stress, depression and anxiety. It really is an all rounder good for physical, mental and brain health.

So whatever your ability or mobility you need to find a way to get physically active.

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Hello Brain For more info on brain health visit Hello Brain


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