Making healthy lifestyle choices protects more than the heart, according to a recent study linking a heart-healthy lifestyle to improved mental health in older adults.
Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study analyzed the link between heart health and cognitive function in an aging population. Research suggests that poor vascular function can have a negative impact on the brain, especially as we get older. After all, our brain needs oxygen-rich blood to function. Heart conditions can impair blood flow to the brain, potentially impacting factors like memory.
To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the Northern Manhattan Study, which tracked the mental and cardiovascular health of more than 1,000 U.S. adults. Participants were 72 years old, on average, and free of heart disease at the start of the study.
Upon enrollment, participants underwent medical exams and completed questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle. Researchers focused on seven key factors related to heart health, including not smoking, having a heathy weight, getting enough physical activity, eating healthy and having healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Referred to as the “Simple Seven” by the American Heart Association, achieving these goals can help drastically reduce risk for heart disease—America’s No. 1 killer.
Participants also underwent repeated psychological testing roughly six years apart, which assessed factors like memory, processing speed and overall cognitive function.
Based on questionnaires and health exams, none of the participants met all “Simple Seven” heart-healthy criteria. Overall, 15% of adults met one of these goals, while most (63%) met 2–3 of the “Simple Seven” heart-heathy criteria. The remainder of participants met anywhere from 4–6 heart-healthy goals.
After analysis, researchers found that participants achieving more of the heart-healthy goals were less likely to experience declines in processing speed, memory and cognitive function. The more ideal heart factors a participant had, the better their processing speed and lower the cognitive decline.
According to authors, findings reinforce current recommendations for heart disease prevention, such as staying active and eating healthy. While they may seem simple, these healthy choices can go a long way in improving both physical and mental health.