The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Message from the CEO: Heart Health is Key to Brain Health

Posted in

Wednesday, Sep 26, 2018

Laura F. DeFina, MD, FACP

President and Chief Executive Officer of The Cooper Institute

Depression, anxiety, and memory problems are key mental health concerns for all Americans.

These illnesses can impact life for both the affected individual and their family in devastating ways. Increasing awareness and acceptance of those suffering from mental illness is critical to finding appropriate treatment and improving their quality of life. 

In addition to the medical treatment of depression, evidence suggests that certain lifestyle measures can prevent or help control depression. Our most recent work from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study (CCLS) published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Psychiatry in late June shows that midlife fitness can protect you from depression in later years. Specifically, the study found that middle-age people with high levels of fitness were 16% less likely to develop depression after age 65.

Depression is a known risk factor for heart disease, and vice versa. For those who developed depression in later years, the study showed a 56% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in those who were fit in midlife. 

The work of Drs. Benjamin Willis and Madhukar Trivedi from UT Southwestern reached over 250 million people around the world in publications like Time Magazine, The New York Times, AARP and the Dallas Morning News.

The Cooper Institute leadership team was thrilled to see the tremendous media interest in this work – proof that people are eager to find ways to help themselves.

One of the greatest fears of most older Americans, however, is that they might develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  Dementia doesn’t just affect one’s memory; it robs us of our independence. Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, so preventive measures are critical. A large body of science exists suggesting that regular exercise and fitness can positively impact memory loss.

A 2013 study from the CCLS found that participants who were highly fit at midlife had a 36% lower chance of developing dementia after the age of 65. In a 2018 study, looking at generally healthy individuals over age 55, those with higher cardiorespiratory fitness had a reduced likelihood of cognitive impairment or potential memory loss. In a follow-up study, those with low vitamin D levels had a 26% greater chance of having memory impairment. Over and over again, the science continues to show that exercise and healthy living may be pivotal to keeping our brains healthy.

We strive to do research that matters - that enhances the lives of our family, friends, and fellow humans. The CCLS database, which began at The Cooper Institute in 1970 and now with over 112,000 individuals enrolled, allows our researchers to explore prevention-based care for conditions of aging. We are grounded in science and make every effort to ensure that preventive recommendations are both evidence-based and obtainable so that everyone can undertake the necessary exercise and healthy habits to age gracefully. Our recent work does just that, showing that the key to a healthy brain is a healthy heart.

Getting 150 minutes weekly of moderate to vigorous physical activity has never been more important to living Well. Into the Future.