14 Days to Revitalize Your Heart and Sharpen Your Mind: Real Results, No Gimmicks

You don’t have to wait long to experience the benefits of simple changes in your exercise habits and diet. Research shows that within 14 days of taking a daily walk and altering your diet, your brain becomes more efficient. And losing just a few pounds produces fairly rapid payback in a stronger heart.

Rapid Response

One of the most impressive characteristics of the human body is how fast it responds to changes in lifestyle. If you’ve been dragging down your wellness by eating meals filled with processed foods and leading a couch potato life in front of the television, shifting your habits to include healthier choices produces almost immediate reimbursement.

When scientists at UCLA enrolled a group of people in a healthy lifestyle program, they found that their brain function showed improvement within two weeks. The relatively simple program consisted of:

  • Doing crossword puzzles and brain teasers to stimulate brain activity
  • Taking daily walks to boost physical fitness
  • Eating five small meals a day to prevent sharp drops in blood sugar
  • Eating a diet containing more omega-3 fats from fish and fish oil
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables with antioxidant nutrients
  • Avoiding high-glycemic foods like white bread, cakes, cookies and other processed foods that spike blood sugar
  • Consuming low-glycemic carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, nuts, spinach, peppers, zucchini, broccoli, cherries, grapefruit, apples, peaches and oranges
  • Controlling stress with daily relaxation exercises like meditation

The researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to measure their subjects’ brain activity. They found that the program decreased brain metabolism in the part of the brain directly linked to working memory (a section called the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex). The scientists interpreted the result as showing that each brain they scanned was working at a higher level.

Cognition Ignition

“The finding suggests that for participants who had followed the healthy longevity program, the brain functioned more efficiently and didn’t need to use as much glucose to perform effectively,” says Dr. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

The study also showed that, compared to a control group of people who did not change their sedentary lifestyle or diet, the participants also performed better in verbal fluency, a cognitive function controlled by the same brain region.

“The research demonstrates that in just 14 days, simple lifestyle changes can not only help overall health, but also improve memory and brain function,” Small says. “Our next step is to assess the individual effects of each lifestyle strategy, which may help us develop an optimal combination.”

Heart Help

In a similar way, changing your lifestyle and losing a little weight can also make a big difference in how your heart operates. When researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis put overweight people on a regimen that caused them to merely lose a pound a month for a year, they found that their heart function beneficially reverted back to a younger state.

As you and your heart age, heart tissue becomes more fibrotic and less flexible. Collagen fibers accumulate in the arteries and muscle, and they grow stiffer and less able to relax. But losing a little bit of weight seems to partially reverse this process, allowing more blood to be pulled into the heart with each heartbeat.

Extra Elasticity

“When the heart fills with blood, the left ventricle is a suction pump,” explains researcher Sándor J. Kovács, Ph.D, M.D. “Think of the rubber bulb of an old-fashioned bicycle horn — you squeeze it (the analog of the ejection phase of the cardiac cycle), then let go (the analog of the filling or diastolic phase) and the rubber bulb springs back to its original shape, sucking air back in. Similarly, the heart’s muscle and connective tissue are elastic, and after ejecting blood to the body during contraction (systole), the left ventricle springs back to draw in new blood (diastole). It’s during this filling phase of the cardiac cycle that subtle changes in heart health can be most readily detected.

“Lose weight and right away you can have better cardiovascular health,” says Kovacs.

The message of these kinds of studies is clear: Not only can more exercise and a better diet improve your health, doing so makes you feel better pretty quickly. So put down that candy bar, take a walk and pick up an apple for your next snack. You’ll be impressed at how fast your body gets the message.