Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Go Mediterranean for the brain and heart

Heart Beat

Go Mediterranean for the brain and heart

Keeping your brain in tip-top shape as you age is every bit as important as keeping your heart healthy. Brain exercises like reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing chess, and knitting have been touted as one way to prevent memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease. Healthy lifestyle choices may be a better way.

A pair of studies — one of nearly 2,000 older New York City residents and the other of 1,400 older men and women living in Bordeaux, France — published together in The Journal of the American Medical Association add to the growing evidence that what's good for the heart is also good for the brain. They indicate that following a Mediterranean-type diet and exercising regularly can help fight an age-related decline in brain function or the onset of dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

There's no such thing as the Mediterranean diet. Instead, there are many ways to go Mediterranean. This type of diet is low in saturated fat and high in fiber. Fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are eaten daily and make up the lion's share of foods. Fat, much of it from olive oil, may account for up to 40% of daily calories. Small portions of cheese or yogurt are usually eaten each day, along with a serving of fish, poultry, or eggs. Red meat makes an appearance now and then. Small amounts of red wine are typically taken with meals.

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