In a study led by the University of Oxford, researchers used advanced MRI to test if factors such as blood pressure, fitness, smoking and alcohol intake are linked to changes in the blood vessels inside the brain.
The study involved 125 young adults between the ages of 18 and 40 years.
The team found that people with healthier heart, including those with optimal blood pressure, who take regular exercise and those with lower alcohol intake, had higher density of blood vessels in the brain.
These healthy people also have higher brain blood flow and fewer white matter hyperintensity lesions. The lesions are linked to a higher risk of stroke and dementia in later life.
In healthy young adults, there are already detectable changes in blood vessels in the brain likely to increase risk of subsequent stroke in those with the highest risk factors such as smoking and high BMI.
The researchers suggest that the finding can help determine the best ways to change lifestyle to improve brain and heart health.
Regular exercise, sensible drinking, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure at healthy levels can have wide spread benefits for both heart and brain disease.
The finding also demonstrates the power and utility of medical imaging to better understand how specific risk factors relate to early brain changes.
It strengthens the evidence that leading a lifestyle to keep the heart healthy is important throughout life.
Profesor Paul Leeson, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Oxford, led the research.
The British Heart Foundation and Wellcome Trust funded study.
The research is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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