A healthier heart in early adulthood could mean fewer thinking and memory problems later in life, a new study suggests.
"These results indicate that people need to pay close attention to their health even in their early 20s," said study author Dr Farzaneh Sorond, of Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago.
Sorond and her team conducted a 30-year study of 189 people who were followed from an average age of 24. Five heart health factors – smoking, body mass index, blood pressure, total cholesterol and fasting blood glucose level – were checked eight times over the study period.
After 30 years, the participants' thinking and memory skills were tested, along with their brain's ability to regulate its blood flow.
Stable blood flow in the brain
Those with better heart health at the start of the study were more likely to get higher scores on the memory and thinking tests at the end of the study.
This was true even after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect thinking and memory, such as education level.
The researchers also found that participants with better heart health at the study's start and seven years into the study were more likely to better maintain stable blood flow in the brain. This means the brain can keep up adequate blood flow during blood pressure changes.
The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting, April 25 to May 1, in Toronto.
More research needed
"We've known that vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels are linked to cerebrovascular damage and problems with thinking skills in older people, but this study shows that these factors may be linked decades earlier and injury may start much earlier," Sorond said in a meeting news release.
The study doesn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship, and more research is needed to better understand how these vascular risk factors affect brain health as we age, Sorond said.
Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
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