If you keep your heart healthy, you could prevent a devastating brain disease

Cognitive decline and cardiovascular illness are the most common ailments associated with advanced age. Both can be delayed with dietary measures and each can influence the severity of the other.

According to new research, published in the PLoS Med journal, populations that score high on standard heart health metrics in midlife significantly lower their risk of developing dementia in old age.

The paper was authored by a team at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

A total of 1,449 participants were recruited from the Finnish Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging, and Dementia study.

“This cohort was followed from midlife (baseline from1972 to 1987; mean age 50.4 years; 62.1% female) to late life (1998), and then 744 dementia-free survivors were followed further into late life (2005 to 2008),” the authors wrote in the new paper. “We defined and scored global CVH metrics based on 6 of the 7 components (i.e., smoking, physical activity, and body mass index [BMI] as behavioral CVH metrics; fasting plasma glucose, total cholesterol, and blood pressure as biological CVH metrics) following the modified American Heart Association (AHA)’s recommendations.”

The researchers measured heart health from midlife to late-life via three behavioral factors (smoking status, physical activity, and body mass index) and three biological factors (fasting plasma glucose, total cholesterol, and blood pressure).

In the first follow-up, 61 people were diagnosed with dementia. In the second follow-up, 47 people developed dementia.

Consistently, participants with intermediate or ideal heart health scores from midlife onwards enjoyed the lowest dementia risk.

Conversely, ideal biological factor scores in late life, like lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, were linked to a greater risk of dementia

More broadly, those who maintain cardiovascular health and a healthy body mass index, avoid smoking, and achieve regular exercise, dramatically reduce their risk of experiencing cognitive decline.

The authors intend to conduct further research in order to determine how diet data, midlife plasma glucose, and rate of attrition impacts the findings above.

“Dementia is a global public health problem, but there is currently no cure or a disease-modifying therapy for dementia. Simulation studies suggested that interventions targeting modifiable risk factors (e.g., cardiovascular factors) could prevent up to one-third of dementia cases. A better understanding of the life-long cardiovascular health (CVH) metrics and risk of dementia may facilitate the development of optimal intervention strategies,” the authors concluded.

“In this study, we observed that having the ideal CVH metrics, and ideal behavioral CVH metrics in particular, from midlife onwards is associated with a reduced risk of dementia as compared with people having poor CVH metrics. Maintaining life-long health behaviors may be crucial to reduce late-life risk of dementia.”