Healthy heart supports brain health: Study

The key to good brain health is to eat right, exercise and take care of one's heart, according to a US study.

Researchers assessed memory, thinking and brain processing speed in over 1,000 New York City residents and found that the performance of the subjects on these tests was much better when they had heart-healthy habits like avoiding cigarettes, maintaining a normal weight and maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

"Our findings reinforce current recommendations for cardiovascular disease prevention but suggest that they may also promote cognitive health," lead study author Hannah Gardener, a neurology researcher at the University of Miami Medical School, said by email.

The study was conducted on 1,033 participants who were on average 72 years old. They were all residents of Northern Manhattan, and 65 per cent were Hispanic.

Researchers considered seven factors that could contribute to better heart health - never smoking or being an ex-smoker; healthy body weight; moderate intensity exercise of 150 minutes a week; a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish with little salt and sugar; and ideal ranges of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

None of the participants met all the seven goals, and only 1 per cent of them achieved six. While around one-third of the participants managed two of these goals, another 30 percent of them hit three of the seven.

At the beginning of the investigation, participants underwent tests for memory, thinking, and brain-processing speed. Brain-processing speed was measured by the amount of time a person took to perform a task that required focused attention. The tests were repeated after six years, by 722 participants to allow researchers to measure any changes in thinking skills.

''The results of our study highlight the need for patients and physicians to monitor and address heart health factors and strive for ideal levels, as these factors not only influence cardiovascular health but also brain health,'' said lead researcher Hannah Gardener, an assistant scientist in neurology at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.