Good heart health may help protect you against Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia, a new study suggests.
Vanderbilt University researchers analyzed data from just over 1,000 people who were followed for 11 years. During that time, 32 participants developed dementia, including 26 with Alzheimer's.
People with poorer heart function were two to three times more likely to develop dementia than those with healthy hearts, according to the study recently published online in the journal Circulation.
"Heart function could prove to be a major risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer's disease," principal investigator Angela Jefferson, director of the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer's Center, said in a university news release.
"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," she added.
"For the average adult, the brain accounts for 2 percent of overall body weight but receives as much as 15 percent of blood leaving the heart," Jefferson said.
The brain is resilient and effectively regulates blood flow to support brain tissue and activity, she said. "But as we age, our vessels tend to be less healthy. They become less adaptable to blood flow changes, and those changes may affect brain health and function," she explained.
The study findings could aid efforts to help prevent Alzheimer's and other types of dementia, she suggested, while acknowledging that good heart health isn't guaranteed to prevent mental decline.
"At present, there is no proven method for preventing dementia or Alzheimer's disease. But leading a heart healthy lifestyle could help," Jefferson said in the news release.
Heart healthy habits include managing stress, exercising regularly, not smoking, and eating well-balanced, nutritious meals, according to the American Heart Association.