In a new study from Yale, researchers found brains were larger and showed fewer signs of injury in early to late middle-aged adults (ages 40-69 years) who had nearly ideal heart health.
They suggest maintaining good cardiovascular health, as reflected in an optimal Life’s Simple 7 score, helps to prevent cardiovascular events such as stroke and heart attack, and also supports overall brain health, both are essential for quality of life.
Life’s Simple 7, developed by the American Heart Association to define ideal cardiovascular health, includes seven healthy lifestyle behaviors: being physically active; eating a healthy diet; not smoking; managing weight, and maintaining or achieving healthy blood pressure, healthy cholesterol; and healthy blood sugar.
According to the American Heart Association, consistently adhering to Life’s Simple 7 has been shown to improve overall health and well-being.
In the study, the team analyzed data on 35,914 adults who had no history of stroke or dementia. The study participants were an average age of 64, 52% women, and all of them reported European ancestry.
Study participants were divided into three groups based on their Life’s Simple 7 scores (each factor is rated from 0 to 2, so totals range from 0-14): 1) poor (0-4); 2) average (5-9); and 3) optimal (10-14).
Researchers found that compared with people with poor Life’s Simple 7 scores:
Those who scored average had 0.86% larger brains and 18% less white matter intensities; and those with optimal Life’s Simple 7 scores had 2.4% larger brains and 43% less white matter intensities.
The difference in brain volume is very significant, with a 2.4% higher volume among those with optimal Life’s Simple 7 measures, equivalent to a brain that is approximately 7-years younger.
Overall, health conditions that appeared to influence brain imaging measures included high blood pressure, which was the most powerful contributor to a greater volume of white matter hyperintensities.
Higher hemoglobin A1c, an indicator of poor blood sugar control, was the most powerful contributor to smaller brain volume.
The research team is currently conducting a follow-up study using a more subtle indicator of brain health, also utilizing the U.K. Biobank participants.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about why exercise can protect brain health in older people, and six ways to ‘reboot your brain’ after a hard year of COVID-19.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about the cause of ‘brain fog’ in people with COVID-19, and results showing this anti-diarrhea drug may help kill brain cancer.
The study was the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference and was conducted by Julian N. Acosta et al.
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