Have a (Healthy) Heart to Protect Your Brain

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • When you read HealthCentral’s Alzheimer’s shareposts, a common theme continues to emerge: If it’s good for your heart, it’s good for your brain. Whether it’s a healthy diet, exercise or lowering stress, study after study continues to point to the critical link between cardiovascular health and cognitive health.


    This sharepost is no different. Instead, I want to share another piece of evidence that drives home the point (yet again) that if you’re not making your cardiovascular health a top priority, it doesn’t matter how many crossword puzzles you do. You’re placing yourself at increased risk of developing cognitive impairment.

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    The new study out of Brigham Young University’s Department of Health Science involved 17,761 participants who were at least 45 years of age when the study started. These participants had normal cognitive function and didn’t have a history of a stroke when the study began.


    These participants were part of the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study that focused on cardiovascular health. Fifty-five percent of the study participants were women. Additionally, 58 percent were white while the remaining study participants were black. The researchers also took geographic location into account when making their selection of participants. Fifty-six percent of the study participants lived in the “Stroke Belt” portion of United States, which consists of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.


    The researchers used the American Heart Association’s assessment, Life’s Simple 7, to gauge the participant’s cardiovascular status. The seven factors that are part of the assessment are smoking, diet, physical activity, body mass index, blood pressure, total cholesterol and fasting glucose. The results of this assessment allow researchers to classify each of these seven factors as poor, intermediate or ideal.


    Additionally, the researchers assessed the participants’ cognitive function.  One test measured verbal learning by asking participants to learn a three-trial, ten-item word list. A second test gauged memory through free recall of a 10-item list after participants spent a brief delay answering non-cognitive questions. The final test looked at fluency by asking participants to name as many animals as possible during one minute.


    The researchers’ analysis found that after controlling the data for age, sex, race and education, the risk of cognitive impairment increased as Life’s Simple 7 scores worsened. For instance, cognitive impairment was found in 4.6 percent of the participants who had the worst cardiovascular health scores. In comparison, cognitive impairment was identified in 2.7 percent of participants who had intermediate heart health profiles and 2.6 percent of participants who had the best cardiovascular health scores.


    One take-away from this study is that you need to at least aim for maintaining an intermediate heart health at the very least. Therefore, small steps – such as losing 10 pounds – can help improve your heart health by reducing diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Furthermore, taking several small steps such as adding a daily walk to your routine, eating more produce and less processed meats, and meditating can combine to help you improve your heart health.


  • So what steps can you take related to your cardiovascular health? The American Heart Association recommends using Life’s Simple 7 tracker to write down your personal numbers and then plug them into the My Life Check online assessment tool. The My Life Check assessment will then give you results regarding Lie’s Simple 7 and will provide a color-coded action plan that is customized to your lifestyle and health outlook.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    American Heart Association. (2014). Getting heart healthy one simple step at a time.


    American Heart Association. (2014). Poor cardiovascular health linked to memory, learning deficits.

Published On: June 13, 2014