Healthy Heart in 20s = Healthy Brain in 40s
People who take simple steps to keep a healthy heart in young adulthood, such as exercising, eating a healthy diet and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, may keep their brain from shrinking decades later. People who take care of their heart health in young adulthood may have larger brains in middle-age, compared to people who do not take care of their heart health, according to a study published in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“We know that when people take certain steps like exercising and eating well, they have healthier hearts,” said study author Michael Bancks, PhD, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “The American Heart Association created seven simple steps everyone can take to improve heart health called Life’s Simple 7 and recent research has shown that people who score higher on that assessment also score higher on thinking tests. We wanted to see if maintaining a healthy heart, as defined by these seven factors, affected the physical make-up of the brain as well.”
The American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 includes the following factors: maintaining a healthy blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, being active, eating better, losing weight and stopping smoking.
For the study, researchers looked at data on 518 people with an average age of 51 who had been followed for 30 years. Participants were initially screened for height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and interviewed about diet and exercise. They then received follow-up exams every two to five years and also had brain scans 25 years after starting the study.
They found that people who had better heart health scores at the beginning of the study had a higher average brain volume as a percentage of their total head size in middle age. This was also true for people who had a better average of the beginning score and the score at year 25.
Bancks said that every point increase in the Life’s Simple 7 score was roughly equivalent to one year of aging in the amount of brain shrinkage that occurred.
“These findings are exciting because these are all changes that anyone can make at a young age to help themselves live a long and healthy life,” Bancks said. “This may mean that heart health may have an impact on brain function in early life, but more study needs to be done to confirm this theory.” Be smart. Have a healthy heart.