In a new study from the Queen Mary University of London, researchers found that people with healthier heart structure and function appear to have better cognitive abilities, including increased capacity to solve logic problems and faster reaction times.
Heart disease and dementia are important and growing public health problems, particularly in aging populations.
The brain has previously been proposed as a target for damage from heart disease, and the risk factors leading to heart disease have also been linked to both vascular and Alzheimer’s dementia.
However, the mechanisms by which these associations occur are not well understood, and studies had not been carried out in large groups of people or those without the disease.
In the study, the team examined links between heart health and cognitive function in over 32,000 UK Biobank participants. The team assessed heart health using measures of anatomy and function obtained from MRI scans.
Cognitive function was assessed using tests of fluid intelligence (the capacity to solve logic-based problems) and reaction time.
The results show that, in this large group of mostly healthy individuals, those with healthier heart structure and function performed significantly better in tests of cognitive ability.
The team also considered whether the links between heart and brain health may be related to shared risk factors for vascular diseases, such as diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and obesity.
They found that although these factors were important in determining both heart and brain health, they did not provide a complete explanation for the observed associations.
This suggests that alternative mechanisms may be important in mediating interactions across the heart and brain.
The team says scientists already knew that patients with heart disease were more likely to have dementia and vice versa, but the study has now shown that these links between heart and brain health are also present in healthy people.
It demonstrated for the first time, in a very large group of healthy people, that individuals with healthier heart structure and function have better cognitive performance.
If you care about heart health, please read studies about this number, not BMI, linked to heart disease in people with diabetes and findings of arm cuff blood pressure measurements may not predict heart disease accurately.
For more information about heart disease prevention and treatment, please see recent studies about common painkillers may lead to obesity, sleep problems, heart attacks and results showing that middle-aged adults with this mental problem may have a heart attack easily.
The study is published in the European Heart Journal Cardiovascular Imaging. One author of the study is Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh.
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