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Having good heart health in your 50s lowers dementia risk later in life, say researchers


According to a recent study published in the journal The BMJ, maintaining good heart health in your 50s can help lower your risk of dementia as you age.

The researchers behind the study said that their results emphasize the importance of improving cardiovascular health in middle age to prevent age-related cognitive decline.

Preventing dementia with “Life Simple 7”

Dementia is a progressive disease that can develop at least a decade before you experience any of its symptoms, which include:

  • Being unable to follow a conversation or say the right word
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having trouble carrying out normal daily tasks
  • Memory loss
  • Mood changes

Research suggests that adopting healthy lifestyle habits is the most effective way of preventing dementia. While the American Heart Association‘s “Life Simple 7” cardiovascular health score is intended to help prevent heart disease, experts are now using it to also help prevent dementia.

Life Simple 7 includes four behavioral factors:

  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Diet
  • Physical activity
  • Smoking

It also involves three biological factors:

  • Blood cholesterol
  • Blood pressure
  • Fasting glucose

Metrics for these seven factors are then grouped into three score levels that indicate your cardiovascular health: Poor or scores from zero to six, intermediate or scores from seven to 11 and optimal or scores from 12 to 14.

The effect of social, behavioral and biological factors on long-term health

But despite the use of Life Simple 7 to prevent heart disease and dementia, findings on the matter are conflicting.

To address the inconsistencies, Severine Sabia from the University of Paris spearheaded the international research project. Sabia and her team looked at the link between the Life Simple 7 heart health score of people in their 50s and dementia risk over the next 25 years.

The researchers analyzed cardiovascular data gleaned from 7,899 British men and women in their 50s who took part in the Whitehall II Study. The Whitehall II Study examined the impact of social, behavioral and biological factors on long-term health. At age 50, all the volunteers were free of heart disease and dementia.

The scientists identified dementia cases using hospital, mental health services and death registers up to 2017.

Their findings revealed that out of all the volunteers, 347 cases of dementia were recorded over an average follow-up period of 25 years. The average age at dementia diagnosis was 75 years.

After considering factors that affect disease risk, the team discovered that following Life Simple 7 heart health recommendations in midlife helped minimize dementia risk later in life.

As this was an observational study, the scientists were unable to establish a cause for this intriguing effect. On the other hand, they noted some limitations to their study, such as self-reported measures and potentially missing cases of dementia when analyzing patient records.

But the most important revelation of their research was that having a higher cardiovascular health score at age 50 is linked to higher whole brain and grey matter volumes in MRI scans done 20 years after the study.

Grey matter contains most of the brain’s nerve cells and is involved in various processes, such as decision making, emotions and memory.

The researchers also observed reductions in dementia risk for participants with high cardiovascular scores. This implies that even minor improvements in cardiovascular risk factors at age 50 can help minimize the risk of dementia in old age.

Having healthy lifestyle habits can boost heart health and reduce dementia risk

According to Sabia and her team, adopting good lifestyle habits is the key to preventing dementia. They also believe that since cardiovascular risk factors are modifiable, targeting them can significantly boost your heart health and prevent dementia later in life.

The scientists also endorsed public health policies that promote heart health in adults aged 50 and above to improve cognitive health.

Regardless of your age, below are some changes you can make to boost your heart health.

  • Quit smoking.
  • Reduce blood sugar and try to get your fasting blood glucose below 100 mg/dL.
  • Manage your cholesterol levels and get your total cholesterol to less than 200 mg/dL.
  • Manage your blood pressure and get it below 120/80 mm Hg.
  • Lose weight and target a BMI within the normal range (at least 18.5 to 25).
  • Be more physically active. Engage in 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise every week.
  • Follow a balanced diet. Avoid junk food and cut down on red meat and sugar. Eat more fish, fruits, low-fat dairy products, nuts, poultry, vegetables and whole grains.

Quit bad habits like smoking and improve your lifestyle habits. Remember that boosting your heart health in your 50s is key to preventing dementia later in life.

Sources include:

EurekAlert.org

NHS.uk

DailyMail.co.uk

Health.Harvard.edu



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