Prevention: the key to a healthy heart and brain

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This article is adapted from the second edition of the Foundation’s magazine

Interview with Dr. Louis Bherer, neuropsychologist, researcher, and Associate Scientific Director of the Preventive Medicine at the Montreal Heart Institute.

“Some might be asking themselves why an institution like ours, dedicated to cardiology, studies the brain. That’s because the heart and brain are in fact inextricably linked. What’s good for one is good for the other,” said Dr. Bherer who is dedicated to finding ways to prevent conditions that affect these two key organs. The Holder of the Mirella and Lino Saputo Research Chair in Cardiovascular Health and the Prevention of Cognitive Decline at Université de Montréal and the Montreal Heart Institute has made prevention the core focus of his innovative projects.

COVEPIC

Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Bherer began a research project involving 400 patients who were members of the EPIC Centre (link in french). His study examined the effects of a combination of physical exercise and cognitive training on the health of the body and brain. In March 2020, all activities had to be suspended. But the team didn’t sit around twiddling their thumbs. The EPIC Centre’s kinesiologists quickly uploaded their physical exercise programs online which inspired Dr. Bherer to do the same with his cognitive stimulation and monitoring activities. COVEPIC (Cognitive and SpOrt Virtual EPIC Training) was born and based on an entirely virtual research protocol, previously unheard of in the field. In fact, the protocol was the topic of an article published in Trials.

The benefits of nature

A second project, this time in collaboration with Sépaq, also occupied Dr. Bherer during the pandemic. As an outdoor and camping enthusiast, Dr. Bherer undertook a systematic review of published articles to demonstrated that the benefits of being in nature have been scientifically proven. His findings allowed him to conclude that frequently spending time in nature reduces a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, stress, and anxiety. Would his team go so far as to prescribe a hike in the woods to prevent cardiovascular incidents? “It’s complementary to our approach for promoting health. For instance, we could recommend that people spend 15 to 20 minutes in a park near their home, twice a week, to help them reap the benefits on their cardiovascular health,” he said.

Prevention: a bold choice

In light of these promising approaches, he is thrilled that prevention has become a core part of the Institute’s mission – a bold stance admired by other professionals in Canada. “Curative treatments have their own limits. The best strategy is to prevent the disease.” In other words, the healthier the heart, the lower the risks of cognitive impairment. As the saying goes: an ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure. That’s why an increasing number of physicians like Dr. Bherer believe that prevention must be an integral part of health care.

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