The same steps that prevent heart disease may help protect the brain, based on results of a French study that showed individuals with a heart-healthy lifestyle have significantly lower risk for developing dementia as they age.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this study explored the link between heart health and cognitive decline.
Past studies suggest poor cardiovascular health may be associated with increased risk for dementia. That’s likely because unhealthy arteries means poorer blood supply to the brain as well as the heart. However, there’s still not enough research to say for sure how heart health impacts risk for dementia.
To learn more, researchers tracked the health of more than 6,600 older adults through the Three City Study, which explores the relationship between vascular health and dementia. Participants were 65 years and older and came from three cities in France—Bordeaux, Dijon and Montpellier.
During the study, participants underwent thorough repeat medical exams to assess their cardiovascular and neurological health. All participants were free of heart disease and dementia at the start of the study and followed for an average of 8.5 years.
Overall, 11% of participants developed dementia over the study period, and researchers found that the better participants’ heart health, the lower their risk was for dementia.
Heart health was measured by the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7”, which highlights seven factors known to reduce risk for heart disease. These factors include not smoking, eating healthy, staying active, maintaining a healthy weight and having a healthy blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.
In this study, more than one-third of participants had two or fewer of these ideal heart health factors, while 57% of participants met 3–4 of Life’s Simple 7 and less than 7% met 5–7.
After analysis, researchers found that each of Life’s Simple 7 was associated with a 10% reduction in risk for dementia and significantly better cognitive function. Therefore, the more heart-healthy individuals were, the lower their risk was for dementia and cognitive decline.
According to authors, findings confirm the link between heart health and risk for dementia. Study findings also support taking steps to promote heart health to also prevent dementia and protect cognitive function.
However, authors also acknowledge that additional research is needed to better understand the link between vascular health and risk for dementia. This is a relatively new association and more studies are needed to confirm the link and determine whether heart-healthy choices are effective in reducing risk for dementia.