A new study found those with declining memory often lived with cardiovascular conditions.
senior couple walking along the beach together
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While playing puzzle games and socializing with loved ones are said to be some of the best things you can do to keep your mind sharp as you age, a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology notes that long-term brain health starts with a healthy heart. Researchers out of China, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Chicago found that people with cardiovascular conditions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, faced greater cognitive decline than people with healthy hearts, CNN reports. "There are many specific cardiovascular risk factors, and each can either individually, or in combination, push the fast-forward button towards different aspects of cognitive decline," Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, said.

To gather their findings, researched tracked over 1,500 elderly participants for 21 years. The contributors to the research, averaging 79 years of age, were all dementia-free and most often began to experience declines in memory when they also began showing signs of heart conditions. "This study focused on individual areas of cognition, such as memory and processing speed, and helps to clarify complex interrelationships between heart and brain health," said Dr. Isaacson.

Their findings suggest that specific conditions stemming from the heart can impact the brain's health, often causing delayed cognitive responses than normal. "High blood pressure and diabetes can accelerate shrinkage of the brain. High cholesterol can increase the bad protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer's. Decreased blood flow can cause 'white spots' on brain scans that can lead to slowed processing speed," Dr. Isaacson said.

To keep your heart—and therefore your mind—as healthy as possible, Dr. Isaacson recommended "making active lifestyle changes [like getting more exercise and bettering your sleep routine] and seeing a doctor who can help control modifiable risk factors—such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and tobacco use."


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