In Summary

  • Following healthy heart guidelines protects the brain
  • The study involved almost 3000 participants
  • Reduces risk of dementia, stroke and cognitive decline

Maintaining a healthy heart may help protect the brain from dementia, stroke and cognitive decline, a new study has found.

A team of researchers from Swinburne University of Technology and Boston University examined whether following a set of seven healthy heart guidelines would reduce the risk of vascular brain injury among almost 3000 participants in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring cohort.

The study shows adherence to the American Heart Association’s ideal cardiovascular health (CVH) index protects against the development of stroke, brain shrinkage and cognitive decline as well as dementia, including vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

“The ideal CVH index places emphasis on health rather than the risk of disease. It is a simple set of modifiable health factors and behaviours,” says lead author Dr Matthew Pase from Swinburne’s Centre for Human Psychopharmacology.

“Participants can obtain a perfect score by avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and by keeping cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose at optimal levels.”

The researchers looked at whether ideal CVH scores of participants were associated with vascular brain injury.

Those with higher ideal CVH scores had a lower 10-year risk of developing stroke and vascular dementia. Those with higher ideal CVH scores in the past also had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting that midlife vascular health may be important for protecting against dementia years later.

Higher ideal cardiovascular health was also associated with less brain shrinkage and less decline in mental ability over a follow-up period of seven years.  

“The risk of dementia doubles every five years after the age of 65. With increasing life expectancies, there is a pressing need to find ways to prevent dementia,” says Dr Pase.

“Our study suggests that adhering to simple healthy heart guidelines, particularly in midlife, can significantly reduce the risk of vascular brain injury and dementia.”

The paper was published in the journal Stroke.


Framingham Heart Study

In 1948, the Framingham Heart Study embarked on an ambitious project in health research. The objective of the study was to identify the common factors or characteristics that contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD) by following its development over a long period of time in a large group of participants who had not yet developed overt symptoms of CVD or suffered a heart attack or stroke.

The Framingham Heart Study became a joint project of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Boston University.