Heart health as young adult linked to mental function in mid-life

March 31, 2014

Being heart healthy as a young adult may increase your chance of staying mentally sharp in mid-life, according to new research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

In a 25-year study on 3,381 people, 18- to 30-years-old, those with , blood sugar and slightly higher than the Association's recommended guidelines, scored lower on cognitive function tests in their 40s and 50s. Standardized scores on three cognitive tests were between 0.06 to 0.30 points less, on average, for each increase in cumulative exposure to these risk factors, which the researchers considered significant for this age group. Standard deviation is the amount of variation from the average.

"It's amazing that as a young adult, mildly elevated cardiovascular risks seem to matter for your brain health later in life," said Kristine Yaffe, M.D., study author and a neuropsychiatrist, epidemiologist and professor at the University of California-San Francisco. "We're not talking about old age issues, but lifelong issues."

This is one of the first comprehensive long-term studies looking at key heart disease and stroke risk factors' effects on cognitive function in this age group. Prior research showed similar effects of mid-life and late-life cardiovascular health on brainpower in late life.

The study was part of the ongoing multi-center Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. Participants had their blood pressure, fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels checked every two to five years. Researchers analyzed each person's cumulative cardiovascular health over 25 years. The American Heart Association defines ideal cardiovascular health as <120 mm Hg, diastolic blood pressure <80 mm Hg, blood sugar <100 mg/dL, and cholesterol < 200 mg/dL.

At the end of the study, participants took three tests measuring memory, thinking speed and mental flexibility.

Elevated blood pressure, and cholesterol are three major risk factors for atherosclerosis, the slow narrowing of arteries caused by a build-up of plaque in the artery walls leading to the brain and heart.

The narrowing of the arteries leading to and in the brain is the most likely explanation for the link between cardiovascular health and cognitive function, Yaffe said.

"Our study is hopeful, because it tells us we could maybe make a dent in the risks of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia by emphasizing the importance of controlling among younger people," she said.

Explore further: Heart disease warning at age 18

Related Stories

Heart disease warning at age 18

February 4, 2014
Elevated blood pressure as young as age 18 is a warning sign of cardiovascular disease developing later in life and the time to begin prevention, according to a large national Northwestern Medicine study. That's decades earlier ...

New study presents evidence that blood pressure should be measured in both arms

February 25, 2014
As heart disease continues to be one of the leading causes of death in the United States, practitioners and patients alike are looking for ways to cut risk factors and identify new clues to assist with early detection. New ...

Study shows increased risk for cardiovascular disease in youth with HIV

February 25, 2014
Nearly half of adolescents who have had HIV since birth may be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease—including heart attack and stroke—later in life, according to a National Institutes of Health network study.

Tests to predict heart problems may be more useful predictor of memory loss than dementia tests

April 1, 2013
Risk prediction tools that estimate future risk of heart disease and stroke may be more useful predictors of future decline in cognitive abilities, or memory and thinking, than a dementia risk score, according to a new study ...

Increases in heart disease risk factors may decrease brain function

May 2, 2013
Brain function in adults as young as 35 may decline as their heart disease risk factors increase, according to new research in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

Eating fruits and vegetables linked to healthier arteries later in life

March 28, 2014
Women who ate a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables as young adults were much less likely to have plaque build-up in their arteries 20 years later compared with those who consumed lower amounts of these foods, according ...

Recommended for you

Could aggressive blood pressure treatments lead to kidney damage?

July 18, 2017
Aggressive combination treatments for high blood pressure that are intended to protect the kidneys may actually be damaging the organs, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests.

Quantifying effectiveness of treatment for irregular heartbeat

July 17, 2017
In a small proof-of-concept study, researchers at Johns Hopkins report a complex mathematical method to measure electrical communications within the heart can successfully predict the effectiveness of catheter ablation, the ...

Concerns over side effects of statins stopping stroke survivors taking medication

July 17, 2017
Negative media coverage of the side effects associated with taking statins, and patients' own experiences of taking the drugs, are among the reasons cited by stroke survivors and their carers for stopping taking potentially ...

Study discovers anticoagulant drugs are being prescribed against safety advice

July 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the University of Birmingham has shown that GPs are prescribing anticoagulants to patients with an irregular heartbeat against official safety advice.

Protein may protect against heart attack

July 14, 2017
DDK3 could be used as a new therapy to stop the build-up of fatty material inside the arteries

Heart study finds faulty link between biomarkers and clinical outcomes

July 14, 2017
Surrogate endpoints (biomarkers), which are routinely used in clinical research to test new drugs, should not be trusted as the ultimate measure to approve new health interventions in cardiovascular medicine, according to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.