Heart over head: weak pumping linked to smaller brain

November 16, 2010 by  

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People are supposed to be rational and shouldn’t let their heart rule over their minds. But the human anatomy and physiology say otherwise: When the heart stops, brain damage and death follows. However, a person can be brain dead for long periods of time while the heart still continues to beat.

A recent study by researchers at the Alzheimer’s Disease Center of the Boston University School of Medicine showed that a weak heart with less pumping ability can lead to a prematurely aging brain. The data was based on study of 1504 people as part of the Framingham Heart Study. The study participants were practically healthy, and had no history of stroke, heart attack or dementia. The average age was 61 years old and 54% were women. Assessments included cardiac index calculated as cardiac output/body surface area measured by cardiac magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI). Brain volume was also assessed using MRI. The results of the study indicate a strong correlation between cardiac index and brain volume, with smaller volumes observed among those with lower (yet normal) cardiac index. Lower cardiac index is indicative of decreasing cardiac function whereas smaller brain volume is indicative of brain atrophy that may be due to premature brain aging

According to researcher and author Angela Jefferson

“Individuals in the lowest or middle cardiac index groups had brain volumes that appeared about two years older than the individuals in the highest or healthiest cardiac index group.’’

Experts think that the results are cause for concern because smaller brain volume is also linked to mild cognitive impairment, early dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Is there something we can do about this?

Dr. Jefferson says there is. Regular exercise keeps the heart active and its pumping ability strong. If we maintain our cardiac function through physical activity, we reduce the risk for having a prematurely aging brain.

So think and use your brain, if you must, but keep your heart strong. At the end of the day, the heart wins over the mind.

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