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Having a good heart benefits brain health in elderly

Update Date: Mar 19, 2016 10:29 AM EDT

Heart-healthy living seniors exhibited faster thinking speeds and less decline in memory and thinking skills six years later, a study emphasized.

Published in the March 16 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study was based on over 1,000 individuals with an average age of 72, according to Health Day

 At the beginning of the investigation, participants were tested for memory, thinking, and brain-processing speed.  After six years, 722 participants repeated these tests so researchers could measure any changes in thinking skills.

The researchers evaluated the patients to see how closely they met the seven heart-healthy living goals created by the American Heart Association. These are: 

  • Blood pressure management. 
  • Cholesterol level management. 
  • Reduction of blood sugar levels: 
  • Lowering blood sugar levels. 
  • At least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity-or an equal combination of both-each week. 
  • Better diet. 
  • Weight reduction. 
  • Avoidance of smoking.

 The scientists reported that participants who met more heart-healthy goals had better brain-processing speed at the start of the study. This link was most apparent for certain lifestyle factors, including not smoking, being at a healthy weight, and having ideal blood sugar levels.

 At follow-up, scientists noted that meeting more heart-healthy goals was linked to less deterioration in brain processing speed, memory, and executive function, such as focusing, organization, time management, and other cognitive skills.

 "The results suggest that vascular damage and metabolic processes may be important in cognitive performance and decline late in life," said lead researcher Hannah Gardener, an assistant scientist in neurology at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. However, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between heart-healthy living and reduced loss of thinking skills.

Gardener says none of the people in the study achieved the targets for all health factors and suggested that improvements in just some areas can benefit the brain, TIME reported.

 "People shouldn't feel discouraged if one or two feels out of reach," she says. 

More research is needed to ascertain if routine assessment and treatment of heart health factors may boost sharpness of minds among the elderly the investigators added.

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