Skip to main content
Intellect

Study: Love your brain with all of your heart

Poor heart health can lead to poor brain function

Researchers found:

  • Nearly 5 percent of those with poor heart health showed cognitive problems four years later, compared to only 2.6 percent of those with ideal health
  • Better heart health was more common among men, people with higher levels of education, and those with higher incomes
  • Rates of mental impairment were more common among people with lower incomes and those with heart disease

A new BYU study finds that adults with poor heart health are more likely to develop cognitive (brain) problems as they age, such as memory and learning impairment.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, is the latest to show a strong connection between the human body’s most vital organs.

“What’s healthy for the heart also seems to be healthy for the brain,” said lead researcher Evan Thacker, assistant professor of health science at BYU. “Every element in our body is connected and keeping one part of it healthy helps keep other parts healthy.”

Thacker and his team used cardiovascular health data for 17,761 people aged 45 and older who had normal cognitive function and no history of stroke. His team then linked the cardiovascular health data to mental function scores four years later.

The researchers determined the initial cardiovascular health of the study subjects based on the American Heart Association Life’s Simple 7 score, a score cataloging health in seven key areas:

  1. Smoking status
  2. Healthy diet
  3. Physical activity
  4. Body mass index
  5. Blood pressure
  6. Total cholesterol
  7. Fasting glucose

Cognitive function was determined by a series of tests, such as learning a list of 10 words and then having to recall them several minutes later, or, naming as many animals as possible in 60 seconds.
They found the subjects with the lowest cardiovascular health scores were more likely to be impaired in learning, memory and verbal fluency tests than their counterparts with intermediate or ideal heart health.

Specifically, researchers found that 4.6 percent of people with the worst heart health showed cognitive impairment four years later, compared to only 2.7 percent for those with intermediate health scores and 2.6 percent for those with ideal health scores.

“Even when ideal cardiovascular health is not achieved, intermediate levels of cardiovascular health are preferable to low levels for better cognitive function,” Thacker said. “This is an encouraging message because intermediate health is a more realistic target for many individuals.”

Thacker says the study, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, should motivate people to action.

“Anyone can choose any one of those seven factors to improve on today,” he said. “Just choose one and start there and then move forward by choosing another one.”

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health collaborated on the study. Data for the study was taken from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Difference in Stroke (REGARDS) cohort study.

Related Articles

data-content-type="article"

Forum: Building the beloved community

October 26, 2021
Rev. Dr. Andrew Teal, a chaplain and Fellow at Pembroke College, delivered the forum address to campus on Tuesday. He spoke on building a beloved community — the theme for this year’s forums.
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection=false overrideCardHideByline=false overrideCardHideDescription=false overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText= overrideTextAlignment=
data-content-type="article"

New personal branding course educating BYU student-athletes on business in the time of NIL

October 26, 2021
Class teaches principles of success for life beyond college athletics
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection=false overrideCardHideByline=false overrideCardHideDescription=false overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText= overrideTextAlignment=
data-content-type="article"

A megafire induced over a century’s worth of erosion near Utah Lake — but there’s more to the story, say BYU scientists

October 22, 2021
In burned watersheds where the wildfire had consumed stabilizing vegetation and leaf litter, the rain had caused massive erosion. There was a 2,000-fold increase in sediment flux compared to unburned areas, creating a plume of ash and soil moving into Utah Lake that was visible from space.
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection=false overrideCardHideByline=false overrideCardHideDescription=false overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText= overrideTextAlignment=
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection=false overrideCardHideByline=false overrideCardHideDescription=false overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText=