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Cardiovascular health is linked to cognitive strength

June 12, 2014

The American Heart Association published a study that ties cardiovascular health to learning and memory. Researchers found that people who had low scores regarding cardiovascular health also scored poorly on learning, memory and verbal fluency assessments. The implication is that a heart healthy lifestyle for seniors is also beneficial for cognition.

Life's Simply 7
Participants in the study were evaluated for cardiovascular health using the AHA Life's Simple 7. The initiative measures the benefits of lifestyle changes and risk factors for cardiovascular health across seven factors - body mass index, blood pressure, diet, smoking, total cholesterol, fasting glucose and physical activity. Cardiovascular health is then ranked as poor, intermediate or ideal.

Results of the study
Research was conducted with 17,761 people 45 and older who had no history of stroke or cognitive decline. They were evaluated for mental function at the beginning of the study, then again four years later.

Data regarding cardiovascular health was gleaned from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study. When age, sex, race and education were taken into account, cognitive impairment was most detectable in subjects with poor cardiovascular health. Results showed that 4.6 percent of people with poor cardiovascular health, 2.7 percent of people with intermediate cardiovascular health and 2.6 percent of people with ideal cardiovascular health experienced cognitive decline over the four-year study. Ultimately, the level of risk is almost even for subjects with intermediate and ideal cardiovascular health.

"This is an encouraging message, because intermediate cardiovascular health is a more realistic target for many individuals than ideal cardiovascular health," said Evan L. Thacker, Ph.D., the study's lead investigator.

Protecting your cardiovascular health 
A handful of senior health tips can help keep your heart working well.  Eating a balanced diet is an integral part of maintaining heart health. The AHA recommended first determining how many calories you use per day, then tailoring your caloric intake accordingly. Your diet should feature whole grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, nuts and low-fat dairy. Limit red meat, sugary foods and sodium. 

It's also important to exercise regularly. Try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, even if you have to break it into 10-minute sessions. Tobacco consumption is very detrimental to cardiovascular health, so it is beneficial to quit smoking if you're currently in the habit. Limiting alcohol intake will also serve your heart well. The recommended limit is one drink per day for women and two for men.