By Natalie San Luis
Keeping blood pressure in check could reduce your risk for heart disease. But could it also help you stay sharp in midlife?
A new study looked at the effects of heart health risk factors in young adulthood on cognitive function in midlife.
Researchers found that exposure to these risk factors over 25 years led to significant decreases in cognitive function like verbal memory and thinking speed.
They suggested that staying heart healthy as a young adult could help prevent decreases in brain power later in life.
Kristine Yaffe, MD, of the Departments of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, led the study.
According to the authors of the study, midlife and late-life heart health risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol may be linked to cognitive decline.
However, this association has not been defined for heart health issues during young adulthood.
This study looked at the effects of cardiovascular risk factors during early adulthood on cognitive performance in midlife.
Researchers used data from participants enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study.
The participants were adults between 18 to 30 years old. The study began in 1985, and the participants completed follow-up exams every two to five years.
During follow-ups, researchers took the participants' blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels.
The researchers assessed 3,381 participants who completed the year 25 follow-up visit.
At this follow-up visit, researchers administered cognitive function tests.
The assessments measured attention, working memory, and executive function.
Based on the American Heart Association guidelines, between 30 and 48 percent of participants had elevated exposure to heart health risk factors, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The researchers found that poorer heart health in early to middle adulthood was associated with worse cognitive function in midlife.
Additionally, greater cumulative exposure to heart health risk factors was tied to poorer executive function, processing speed, and verbal memory.
The authors of the study suggested that treating cardiovascular risk factors at all stages of life could improve cognitive function.
The study was published in Circulation on March 31.
The research was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute. The lead author disclosed that she had previously worked as a consultant for Novartis, a pharmaceutical company.