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Healthy Heart = Healthy Brain

Healthy Heart = Healthy Brain

New research suggests having a healthy heart may have major benefits for preventing the decline in brain function that sometimes accompanies aging.

In the new study, investigators studied a racially diverse group of older adults and found that having more ideal cardiovascular health factors was associated with better brain processing speed. The link between heart health and cognitive ability was discovered both at the beginning of the study and then approximately six years later when less cognitive decline was detected among individuals with healthier cardiac capabilities.

The researchers from the University of Miami and Columbia University used the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple Seven®” definition of cardiovascular health. This classification includes tobacco avoidance, ideal levels of weight, physical activity, healthy diet, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose.

“Achieving the health metrics of Life’s Simple 7® is associated with a reduced risk of strokes and heart attacks, even among the elderly. And the finding that they may also impact cognitive, or brain function underscores the importance of measuring, monitoring, and controlling these seven factors by patients and physicians,” said Hannah Gardener, Sc.D., the study’s lead author.

At the beginning of the study, 1,033 participants in the Northern Manhattan Study were tested for memory, thinking, and brain processing speed. The average age of study members was 72 and the sample’s ethnic distribution included 65 percent Hispanic, 19 percent black, and 16 percent white.

Brain processing speed measures how quickly a person is able to perform tasks that require focused attention. Approximately six years later, 722 participants repeated the cognitive testing, which allowed researchers to measure performance over time.

The researchers found:

  • Having more ideal cardiovascular health factors was associated with better brain processing speed at the initial assessment.
  • The association was strongest for being a non-smoker, having ideal fasting glucose and ideal weight.
  • Having more cardiovascular health factors was associated with less decline over time in processing speed, memory, and executive functioning.
  • Executive function in the brain is associated with focusing, time management and other cognitive skills.

Researchers acknowledge that although the findings suggest achieving ideal cardiovascular health measures is beneficial to brain function, future studies are needed.

Additional investigation should be directed at determining the value of routinely assessing and treating risk factors — such as high blood pressure, in order to reduce brain function decline.

Gardener said similar studies in race and ethnically diverse populations, with different profiles of educational attainment, literacy, and employment status, are needed to generalize the findings to other populations.

“In addition, further study is needed to identify the age ranges, or periods over the life course, during which cardiovascular health factors and behaviors may be most influential in determining late-life cognitive impairment, and how behavioral and health modifications may influence cognitive performance and mitigate decline over time.”

Source: American Heart Association
Brain and heart photo by shutterstock.

Healthy Heart = Healthy Brain

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Healthy Heart = Healthy Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 18 Mar 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.