Heart health as a young adult is important for brain health later in life

Harold Mandel's picture
Heart health
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The human heart is a fascinating organ which is vital for the proper functioning of your entire body, including your brain. A proper understanding of the pathophysiology of the human body leads to a recognition that without proper oxygenation from your heart your brain can not develop and function properly. This leads to an understanding that generally what is good for your heart is good for your brain. In fact new research shows heart health as a young adult has an effect on brain health later in life.

Studies have found an association between mid- and late-life cardiovascular risk factors (CVRFs) and cognitive function, but little has been known about CVRF exposure during early adulthood and cognitive function later in life, reports the journal Circulation. Most studies have relied on single assessments of CVRFs which do not in all cases accurately reflect long-term exposure. Researchers sought to determine the association which exists between cumulative exposure to CVRFs from early to mid-adulthood and cognitive function as seen at mid-life.

The researchers followed 3,381 adults who were ages 18 to 30 at baseline for 25 years. It was observed that higher cumulative resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure and fasting blood glucose were consistently associated with worse cognition. These associations were observed to be primarily significant for exposures which were above recommended guidelines. There were fewer significant associations observed for cholesterol. It was therefore concluded that cumulative exposure to CVRFs from early to mid-adulthood, particularly above the recommended guidelines, was associated with worse cognition during mid-life.

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Heart health as young adult is therefore linked to mental function during mid-life, reports the American Heart Association in a review of this research. Researchers have discovered that having blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels which are just slightly higher than the recommended guidelines during early adulthood is linked to lower cognitive function at mid-life.

This research shows that being heart healthy as a young adult may very well increase your chances of being mentally sharp during mid-life. In this study those with blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels which were just slightly higher than the American Heart Association’s recommended guidelines, had lower scores on cognitive function tests in their 40s and 50s. Kristine Yaffe, M.D., the study author and a neuropsychiatrist, epidemiologist and professor at the University of California-San Francisco, said, “It’s amazing that as a young adult, mildly elevated cardiovascular risks seem to matter for your brain health later in life.” Yaffe has highlighted that these findings deal with lifelong issues.

Increased blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol are three primary risk factors for atherosclerosis, which is the slow narrowing of arteries which is caused by a build-up of plaque in the artery walls which lead to the brain and heart. The most likely explanation for the association between cardiovascular health and cognitive function is the narrowing of the arteries which lead to and in the brain. Yaffe has said, “Our study is hopeful, because it tells us we could maybe make a dent in the risks of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia by emphasizing the importance of controlling risk factors among younger people.”

It has often appeared to me that middle aged people who have a history of staying fit earlier in life and who have adhered to healthy dietary patterns generally have sharper minds later in life. The adherence to healthy lifestyles associated with cardiovascular fitness is generally a lifelong commitment with cleared benefits for the mind too as you age. The research finding that cardiovascular fitness as a young adult is linked to brain health at middle age should be shared with young people in order to give them an added incentive to keep their hearts healthy.

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