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Better Heart Health May Translate to Healthier Brain Function In Aging Adults


Annals of Long-Term Care: Clinical Care and Aging. 2016;24(4):47.


ALTC Editors

New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that a healthy heart may have major benefits for preventing the decline of brain functioning due to aging (published online March 16, 2016; doi: 10.1161/JAHA.115.002731). 

Researchers at the University of Miami and Columbia University used the American Heart association’s “Life’s Simple Seven®” definition of cardiovascular health, which addresses tobacco avoidance, ideal levels of weight, physical activity, healthy diet, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose. 

At the beginning of the study, 1033 participants in the Northern Manhattan Study (average age 72; 65% Hispanic, 19% black, 16% white) were tested for memory, thinking, and brain processing speed. Brain processing speed measures how quickly a person is able to perform tasks that require focused attention. Approximately 6 years later, 722 participants repeated the cognitive testing, which allowed researchers to measure performance over time.

In a racially diverse group of older adults, study authors found that having more ideal cardiovascular health factors were associated with better initial brain processing speed (at the beginning of the study) and less cognitive decline over time (6 years later). The association was strongest for non-smokers, those with ideal fasting glucose, and those at an ideal weight. 

“Achieving the health metrics of Life’s Simple 7® is associated with a reduced risk of strokes and heart attacks, even among the elderly. And the finding that they may also impact cognitive, or brain function underscores the importance of measuring, monitoring and controlling these seven factors by patients and physicians,” said Hannah Gardener, ScD, the study’s lead author and assistant scientist in neurology at the Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, FL.

While this study suggests that achieving ideal cardiovascular health measures is beneficial to brain function, future studies are needed to determine the value of routinely assessing and treating risk factors, such as high blood pressure, in order to reduce brain function decline.

Gardener also said similar studies in race and ethnically diverse populations with different profiles of educational attainment, literacy, and employment status are needed to generalize the findings to other populations. —Amanda Del Signore

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