Poorer heart health leads to increased risk of memory and thinking decline

17 March 2021

Researchers in the US have found that signs of poorer heart health, including high Body Mass Index (BMI) and blood pressure during early adulthood, are linked with greater late-life decline in memory and thinking skills.

Scientists measured recognised risk factors for heart disease. These included BMI, fasting blood sugar levels, systolic blood pressure, and total cholesterol.

The team looked at 15,000 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 95 who were followed for 10 to 30 years taking part in existing studies. The researchers measured participants’ memory and thinking skills at least once every two years.

Having risk factors for heart disease across the life course, and particularly in early adulthood, was linked with a decline in memory and thinking later in life.

The findings are published in Neurology, today (Wednesday 17 March).

What our expert said:

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“The evidence is clear, what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. While in this study researchers did not look to see if these volunteers developed dementia, they did look at people’s memory and thinking at multiple time points over 30 years.

“This research adds to evidence that one of the most important things you can do for your health, and including your brain health, is to be good to your heart, especially in your 20s and 40s. It suggests that treatment of cardiovascular risk factors in early adulthood could benefit later life memory and thinking. One possible reason for this could be that the diseases that cause memory and thinking problems start decades before any symptoms show.

“Treating risk factors for heart disease should remain an important public health goal. Cutting out smoking, keeping your blood pressure in check, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a balanced diet will all help lower your risk of heart disease and you’ll also be helping keep your brain healthy as you age.”

Published in:

Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology: Cardiovascular Risk Factors Across the Life Course and Cognitive Decline: A Pooled Cohort Study