Latest News » Heart and brain health linked in new study

Eating well is one way to help both your heart and brain health.

Eating well is one way to help both your heart and brain health.

As we get older, our doctors encourage us to proactively improve our heart and brain health. These efforts may be easier now that new research has determined a connection between the two. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, adults with better cardiovascular health are more likely to maintain cognitive function as they age.

How healthy hearts make healthy brains
Researchers from the University of Miami and Columbia University looked at how the American Heart Association's guideline of heart health factors impacted different brain functions and abilities.

The study asked 1,033 participants with an average age of 72 to undergo a series of brain tests, assessing their memory, thinking and brain processing speed, which measures how quickly a person can perform a task. Six years later, 722 of the participants were tested again, allowing the researchers to measure how these brain functions changed over time.

With this data, the researchers saw that participants who checked off more AHA heart health factors, such as abstaining from smoking, being physically active and adhering to a healthy diet, were more likely to have maintained their sharp minds. Those with healthy hearts demonstrated faster brain processing and less cognitive decline over time in each tested function, including focus and time management. They also discovered that the most ideal combination of the heart health markers were not smoking, having an ideal fasting blood sugar level and maintaining a healthy weight.

"Achieving these ideal factors is really important not just for cardiovascular health but also for brain health," Hannah Gardener, the study's author and an epidemiologist at University of Miami, told Time magazine. "Some people may be more motivated by preserving their cognitive health. So I think it's important to emphasize that striving to achieve ideal levels on these seven factors may also help preserve cognitive health later in life."

Not the first time they've been connected, or the last
This isn't the first time research has linked brain and heart health. In fact, AHA has partnered with the American Stroke Association to emphasize how a heart-healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of stroke. Their campaign points to research that has shown how heart disease and stroke have similar risk factors, like obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

However, in an AHA news release about the new study, Gardener noted that more research is needed on the topic. This would include specifically assessing the impact of treating cardiovascular health issues, like high blood pressure, on cognitive decline, as well as expanding these study parameters to a more diverse group of participants.

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