If you’re hoping to keep your mental game sharp as you age, look after your heart, suggests a recent study.
Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami, and her research team analyzed data from the Northern Manhattan Study, which was an enormous, ongoing study of risk factors for strokes. They wanted to examine how people in their 60’s and 70’s would fare on repeated tests of memory and mental acuity six years later, and the impact of subtle differences of a heart-healthy lifestyle on the brain.
Gardener’s study involved over a thousand subjects, who had their cardiovascular health assessed using the American Heart Association’s ‘Life’s Simple 7’.
These seven factors known to benefit the heart and blood vessels include maintaining a normal body weight and good nutrition, not smoking, getting exercise regularly and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels under control.
For the mental tests, the scientists used a combination of memory, judgment, the ability to plan, mental quickness, and problem solving on the participants.
Even the researchers were taken aback by the results. Spanning across all demographics, they found people who had better results on the cardiovascular scale did much better on the mental exercises. Checking the results several years later, they remained consistent – the brain benefits from a healthy heart.
“When we looked at changes in their brain health over time they showed less decline in several of the brain-health domains — including better processing speed, better memory and better executive function,” Gardener says.
A healthy heart keeps ‘executive function abilities’ of the brain sharp – the mental capacity for organizational ability, time management and impulse control, to name a few – are even more critical as we age. Common activities like managing your checkbook, doing your shopping, and preparing your taxes fall under this cognitive category. Having difficulties with these tasks can lead to jeopardizing independence.
More research is expected to learn more about the connection of the heart and brain; specifically how cardiovascular health helps protect the brain.