A Healthy Heart Keeps the Brain Sharp

New research shows a wholesome lifestyle can prevent cognitive decline

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
4 min readAug 7, 2019

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Credit: Cavan Images/Getty Images

RRevealing just how connected the heart and mind are, a new study finds poor health at age 50 — on measures like physical activity, diet, and blood pressure — is linked to more than double the risk of dementia decades later. The result builds on other research showing that healthy living as early as age 18 affects brainpower later in life.

Dementia is a general term referring to impaired thinking, memory, and decision-making. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type. There is no known cure.

“It is now widely accepted that dementia involves changes in the brain over the course of 15 to 20 years,” explains Archana Singh-Manoux of the University of Paris-Saclay in France, who conducted the new research with colleague Séverine Sabia. “Therefore, it is important to assess risk factors before the beginning of the disease process.”

The study, published August 7 in the journal BMJ, examined existing data on 7,899 British women and men who were 35 to 55 at the start of the 25-year study. Each person was given a cardiovascular health rating at the outset — poor, intermediate, or optimal — based on seven measures linked to heart health: smoking, diet, physical activity, body mass index, blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure. Dementia cases were determined based on subsequent medical records and death registers. In all, 347 cases of dementia were recorded. The rate of dementia was more than double among those with poor initial heart health scores compared to those with optimal scores.

The implications from this study and many others are that the healthier the vascular system is in midlife, the lower the risk of subsequent dementia.

“The thrust of much of the research in dementia is on curative solutions,” Singh-Manoux says in an email. “The failure of all drug trials so far makes it important to consider prevention. For prevention to be effective we need to accept the long course of dementia.”

“The implications from this study and many others are that the healthier the vascular system is in…

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB