Researchers assessed memory, thinking and brain processing speed in
more than 1,000 New York City residents and found people did much
better on these tests when they had heart-healthy habits like
avoiding cigarettes, maintaining a normal weight and keeping blood
pressure and cholesterol in check.
“Our findings reinforce current recommendations for cardiovascular
disease prevention but suggest that they may also promote cognitive
health,” lead study author Hannah Gardener, a neurology researcher
at the University of Miami Medical School, said by email.
At the start of the study, the 1,033 participants were 72 years old
on average. They all lived in Northern Manhattan, and 65 percent
Researchers looked at seven factors that can contribute to better
heart health: never smoking or being an ex-smoker; healthy body
weight; 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise; a diet
rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish with little salt
and sugar; and cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar in the
None of the participants hit all seven of these goals, and only 1
percent of them achieved six. Roughly one-third of the participants
managed two of these goals, and another 30 percent of them hit three
of the seven.
All of them completed brain function tests at the start of the
study, and 722 people did the same assessments again about six years
The more heart-healthy traits participants had at the beginning of
the study, the better they scored on brain processing speed, or the
ability to quickly perform tasks that require focused attention.
The association was strongest for being a non-smoker, having normal
blood sugar and an ideal weight, researchers report in the Journal
of the American Heart Association.
By the end of the study, achieving more of the heart-healthy goals
was associated with less decline over time in processing speed,
memory and executive functioning.
Limitations of the study include the high dropout rate, with
slightly younger participants more likely to complete both the
initial and the follow-up brain health assessments, the authors
Even so, the findings reinforce a growing body of evidence
suggesting that what’s good for the heart is also good for the
brain, said Dr. Jeffrey Burns, co-director of the University of
Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Kansas City.
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“They are important findings for reminding us all the reasons why it
is important to make good lifestyle choices, and that these choices
have both physical and cognitive benefits,” Burns, who wasn’t
involved in the study, said by email.
The brain, like other organs, needs a steady blood supply to
function well, said Dr. Majid Fotuhi, a researcher at NeuroGrow
Brain Fitness Center in McLean, Virginia, and at Johns Hopkins
Medicine in Baltimore.
“Good blood flow to the brain and factors that keep our arteries
healthy are critically important for maintaining and improving
optimal cognitive function with aging,” Fotuhi, who wasn’t involved
in the study, said by email.
Some previous research also suggests that smart lifestyle choices
like getting plenty of exercise and eating a healthy diet might slow
down the brain aging process, but the results so far aren’t
definitive, said Kirk Erickson, a psychology researcher at the
University of Pittsburgh who wasn’t involved in the study.
“In any case, there is a lot of evidence suggesting that it is never
too late to start exercising, so those of us in poor cardiovascular
health could still benefit from becoming more active,” Erickson said
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1f4U4k9 Journal of the American Heart
Association, online March 16, 2016.
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