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Healthy Hearts May Lead to Healthy Minds

Paying attention to your cardiovascular health may be more important than ever. A recent study conducted at Vanderbilt University examined more than 1,000 people for about 11 years. Over the course of the study, 32 of the participants were diagnosed with dementia, with 26 of those 32 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Those with cardiovascular problems were between 2-3 times more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. This recent study, published in the journal Circulation, showed a strong connection.

Angela Jefferson, director of the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Centre, and a lead researcher for the study, stated "Heart function could prove to be a major risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer's disease." Jefferson added, "A very encouraging aspect of our findings is that heart health is a modifiable risk. You may not be able to change your genetics or family history, but you can engage in a heart healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise at any point in your lifetime."

The average adult brain weighs about 2% of the total body weight, but requires nearly 15 percent of the total blood flow that leaves the heart. Although the brain is resilient and is able to regulate blood flow in order to maintain effective function, aging leads to less healthy blood vessels, making the vessels less able to handle any changes in blood flow that may be occurring. This ultimately affects brain function, as the brain gets less blood flow when cardiovascular symptoms begin to develop.

Researchers are optimistic that the findings of this study may help to prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s. But, they do caution that having good cardiovascular health does not necessarily guarantee that dementia will not develop.

Says Jefferson, "At present, there is no proven method for preventing dementia or Alzheimer's disease. But leading a heart healthy lifestyle could help.”

Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits that protect your heart health, including reducing stress, getting plenty of exercise, avoiding smoking, and eating a balanced diet can help, according to the American Heart Association.