So, what’s the secret to a bigger brain and a happier heart? Every little bit you do to keep your heart smiling in 20s is like a year’s worth of extra brain space in 40s. Yes, according to a study, people who take care of their heart health in young adulthood may have larger brains in middle-age, compared to people who do not take care of their heart health, according to a study.
Those who exercise, maintain a healthy diet and manage their blood pressure and cholesterol as young adults may prevent their brains from shrinking decades later, according to a study published in the online edition of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“We know that when people take certain steps like exercising and eating well, they have healthier hearts,” said study author Michael Bancks, PhD, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “The American Heart Association created seven simple steps everyone can take to improve heart health called Life’s Simple 7. Recent research has shown that people who score higher on that assessment also score higher on thinking tests. We wanted to see if maintaining a healthy heart, as defined by these seven factors, affected the physical make-up of the brain as well.”
Seven steps to a healthy heart
The following are included in the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7”: eating well, exercising, quitting smoking, lowering blood sugar, managing cholesterol, and keeping a healthy blood pressure.
Researchers examined data from 518 individuals who had been observed for 30 years, with an average age of 51, for the study. In addition to being questioned about their diet and exercise habits, participants were first tested for height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Twenty-five years after the study began, they underwent brain scans and received follow-up assessments every two to five years.
At the beginning of the trial and again at year 25, researchers assigned each participant a score based on how well they adhered to each of the seven steps to heart health. Participants received zero points for poor adherence, one point for intermediate, and two points for perfect, with a total score ranging from zero to 14. Adherence scores ranging from 0 to 7 were deemed inadequate, 8 to 11 were deemed moderate, and 12 to 14 were optimal. Thirty-three percent were perfect, sixty-two percent were intermediate, and five percent had poor adherence at the start of the study. By year 25, 26% of respondents adhered poorly, 58% in an intermediate manner, and 16% in an ideal manner.
Researchers discovered that middle-aged participants with greater average brain volumes relative to their overall head sizes were also those with superior heart health scores at the start of the trial. This also applied to those whose beginning score and year 25 score were higher on average.
Every point increase in the simple 7 score was equivalent to one year of brain-shrinking
According to Bancks, the amount of brain shrinkage that happened with each point increase on the Life’s Simple 7 score was nearly equal to one year of ageing.
Compared to other characteristics, there was a higher correlation between current smoking and decreased brain volume.
“These findings are exciting because these are all changes that anyone can make at a young age to help themselves live a long and healthy life,” Bancks said. “This may mean that heart health may have an impact on brain function in early life, but more study needs to be done to confirm this theory.”
Materials provided by the American Academy of Neurology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Michael P. Bancks, Norrina B. Allen, Prachi Dubey, Lenore J. Launer, Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, Jared P. Reis, Stephen Sidney, Yuichiro Yano, Pamela J. Schreiner. Cardiovascular health in young adulthood and structural brain MRI in midlife. Neurology, 2017; 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004222 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004222
American Academy of Neurology. “Healthy heart in 20s for a healthy brain in 40s.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 July 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170719173725.htm>.
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