Research links heart and brain health

Recent research is showing that what’s good for our hearts, might be good for our brains as well.

Marwan Sabbagh, M.D., Director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, did not take part in the study, but said the research links heart and brain health.

“This study shows that the healthier your heart is, the less likely you are to develop dementia over time,” he said.

The study looked at more 6,626 people age 65 and older.

Participants were assessed on seven heart-healthy metrics, which include not smoking, maintaining a body mass index under 25, getting regular exercise, keeping blood pressure under 120/80, total cholesterol under 200mg/dL, blood sugar under 100mg/dL, eating fish twice a week and vegetables three times a day.

Researchers found those who were able to adhere to all seven metrics of heart-healthy habits had a 70 percent less risk of developing dementia than their peers.

And even for those who were not able to reach all seven metrics, researchers found that for each metric participants were able to reach, those individuals were able to lower their dementia risk by 10 percent compared to those who were not able to meet any metrics.

Dr. Sabbagh said although there are some risk factors that we cannot control, like our age and our family history, when it comes to our dementia risk, the research shows there are still plenty of things that we can do to modify our overall risk.

“We need to take it upon ourselves to say, ‘I’m going to alter my risk today – I will get my blood pressure under control; I will make sure that if I have heart disease I keep managing it the best way I can; I will keep my cholesterol levels healthy; I will manage my health parameters as much as possible and I will alter my diet,” said Dr. Sabbagh.

Dr. Sabbagh said it’s never too late to start to make small lifestyle changes that can add up to a large benefit over time for both brain health and overall health.

In fact, previous studies have shown a connection between exercise and improved brain health.

“Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive abilities; it causes secretion of a brain chemical called BDNF which is a healing brain chemical,” said Dr. Sabbagh. “We know that exercise has clearly been shown to alter risk and improve cognitive function at the same time.”

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA.