Could your heart’s health and fitness determine your speed of thinking and memory skills at an older age? A new study has postulated a link between the brain and the heart.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study look at seniors with an average age of 72 years and with healthy hearts. They noticed that over a period of six years, those with healthy hearts showed improvements in thinking speeds and less decline in memory and thinking skills.

The study used over 1,000 individuals and participants were tested for memory, thinking, and brain-processing speed to set a benchmark number. After six years, 722 participants repeated these tests so the changes in thinking skills could be tracked. Then these changes were mapped against how closely the test subjects met 7 heart-healthy living goals created by the American Heart Association.

“The researchers found that having more of the healthy heart factors was linked to better brain processing years later. It was also associated with less decline in functions like memory and executive functions like time management and focus,” a Time report on the study says.

“An increasing number of ideal CVH factors was associated with better processing speed at initial assessment and less decline. The association was driven by nonsmoking and glucose. Among those with better cognitive performance at initial assessment, positive associations were observed between the number of ideal CVH factors and less decline in the domains of Executive Function and Episodic Memory,” the paper said.

“Achieving these ideal factors is really important not just for cardiovascular health but also for brain health,” author Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist at University of Miami, is quoted as saying in the article. She goes on to add that preserving brain function and cognition may be the ultimate spur for those who have been waiting to get fit or take care of their hearts. “I think it’s important to emphasize that striving to achieve ideal levels on these seven factors may also help preserve cognitive health later in life.”

“The number of people over the age of 65 in the US is on the rise, meaning the public health burden of thinking and memory problems will likely grow,” study co-author Clinton B Wright is quoted as saying.

“Our study showed that for older people, getting regular exercise may be protective, helping them keep their cognitive abilities longer,” Wright added.

“Achievement of the AHA’s ideal CVH metrics may have benefits for brain health in addition to preventing strokes and myocardial infarctions, even among elderly individuals, underscoring the importance of public health initiatives,” the report says in conclusion.

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