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Cardiovascular Health in Young Adults Is Important for Brain Function in Midlife

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Cardiovascular Health in Young Adults Is Important for Brain Function in Midlife

Previous studies have found that cardiovascular disease in middle age or later is associated with mental decline in older years. A new study indicates that, likewise, poor cardiovascular health in young adulthood is linked to cognitive deficits in middle age.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that young people between ages 18 and 30, who had high blood pressure, elevated fasting blood glucose or high cholesterol (all of which indicate poor cardiovascular health), and those with diabetes, performed worse on later tests measuring memory, mental acuity and information processing speed, compared to people who did not have these health issues.

The study also found that the effects of bad cardiovascular health were cumulative: the longer a person’s blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol were higher than recommended levels, the greater the likelihood of cognitive deficits in middle adulthood.

High cholesterol did not seem to have as big an impact on future cognitive health as did high blood pressure or high blood sugar. Also, bad cardiovascular health in young adulthood was not linked to dementia in mid-adulthood. (However, past studies have linked poor fitness and heart health in middle age to cognitive decline and dementia around age 70 or 80.)

Lead author Dr. Kristine Yaffe, professor of psychiatry and neurology at UCSF, said this is one of the first studies to show that cardiovascular health is important for cognitive health even going from young adulthood into middle age; the study provides another reason to be watchful about fitness and cardiovascular health early in life, she said.

Researchers followed 3,381 young adults for 25 years in a long-term study about cardiovascular disease. At the start of the study, subjects were between 18 and 30 years old. They were tested every 2 to 5 years after having fasted. Their blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol were measured.

At 25 years from the start, technicians gave subjects three tests to assess memory and learning, brain aging and information-processing speed. Researchers accounted for differences in weight, height, smoking or alcohol consumption, age, sex, race and education.

People who had had cardiovascular issues above the recommended guidelines, for long periods, consistently scored lower on decision-making, processing speed and verbal memory. The reasons for that aren’t clear, but it could mean that circulatory problems decrease blood flow to the brain, or even damage blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, the researchers wrote.

People with higher blood pressure or blood glucose readings early in adulthood, including diabetics, performed more poorly on all three tests; high fasting blood sugar levels in non-diabetics did not seem to make a difference in mental acuity. People with higher cholesterol levels scored lower on the learning and memory test; but they performed similarly as healthy individuals on the brain aging test and processing speed test.

While the cognitive differences between subjects who were healthy and those with cardiovascular problems were subtle, they could be the beginning of worsening cognitive health, researchers noted.

Dr. Yaffe added that people with “high normal” cardiovascular health markers (blood pressure, sugar or cholesterol levels close to upper guideline limits) don’t necessarily need to be medically treated, but it’s wise to keep in mind that good cardiovascular health is good for the brain.

Study results were published online earlier this year in the journal Circulation.

As Little as 5 Minutes of Running a Day Could Reduce Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke by Almost Half:

In addition to eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep, regular exercise is an important way to achieve and maintain cardiovascular health. For a lot of people who find it hard to take 30 minutes or an hour daily to exercise, a new study is great news.

The study followed 55,137 people aged 18 to 100, for an average of 15 years. Results showed that running as little as 30 to 60 minutes a week — 5 to 10 minutes a day — was associated with a 45 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke, and a 30 percent lower risk of death from all causes. These benefits were still achieved even when participants ran less than a mile per 10 minutes.

Results of that study were published in late July, 2014 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Until recently, it had been assumed that to get that level of benefit from exercise, a person had to perform at least 75 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise.

By Jamell Andrews

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