Maintaining a healthy Body-Brain System, including an emphasis on cardiovascular health, is essential for a long and productive life of learning and doing all the things that we love to do most. What better time than Valentine's Day weekend to celebrate the steps we can all take to adopt a cardio-protective lifestyle? The American Heart Association offers a simple prescription for heart health in the following "Simple 7" health guidelines:
- Get active, with 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, at least five times a week (60 minutes for children).
- Control cholesterol through a healthy diet and regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat healthy. A heart-healthy diet relies on whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables; it is low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugar.
- Manage your blood pressure. The previous three steps should help, but some people are genetically predisposed to high blood pressure and may need medication.
- Lose weight to maintain a body mass index below 25.0.
- Maintain your blood sugar in a healthy range below the 200 fasting level.
- Stop smoking. Or never start. At any age, giving up this habit can improve heart health.
Over the years, we’ve heard from teachers who have found a direct correlation between exercise and the ability to learn. Meg Norris, a former middle school teacher in Georgia, told us how students in her afternoon classes struggled to stayed focus. The problem was particularly acute as students began preparations for standardized testing:
"We discovered that five minutes of fresh air, or stretching, or a high protein snack ... could help refocus our students," she explained. "We showed them their strengths and had them visualize their successes. We taught them how their brains worked and what they should be eating. By the end of the year we had more successes than we could imagine. I had a student give me a piece of candy he earned in another classroom and say, 'Here, this isn't good for my brain.' "