Heart-Health for Middle-Aged Adults Has Been Linked to a Lower Risk of Late-Life Dementia
From preventing heart disease and sudden heart attacks to improving your overall well-being, good cardiovascular health is key to living a long, healthy life. New research has found that heart-health in middle-aged adults is linked to a lower risk of dementia later in life. A long-term study of 1,449 people in Finland found that those who had better scores on general metrics of cardiovascular health in midlife, especially for behavioral factors such as smoking, had a lower risk of dementia in the years to follow. These findings suggest that maintaining lifelong cardiovascular health, particularly in the areas of smoking, exercise, and body mass index, could reduce dementia risk later in life.
Although previous studies could not fully assess the connection between cardiovascular health and the risk of dementia, this study specifically looked at biological factors, such as lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Participants' heart health was evaluated from midlife to late life based on six factors classified as three behavioral (smoking status, physical activity, and body mass index) and three biological factors (fasting plasma glucose, total cholesterol, and blood pressure).
"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. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, told CNN earlier this year.
In addition to abstaining from smoking, other factors that benefit one's cardiovascular health include regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body mass index, which in turn will reduce one's risk for late-life dementia. "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," said Isaacson. A May 2020 study published in Journal of the American College of Cardiology found those with the highest risk for poor heart health had faster declines in memory and the ability to compare letters, numbers, and other objects.