Good cardiovascular health at age 50 is associated with a lower risk of dementia later in life, according to a study of British adults.
An international research project compared heart health scores at age 50 and dementia diagnoses over the next 25 years. They study, published in the BMJ, looked at data collected from 8,000 London-based civil servants.
The researchers wanted to see if the American Heart Association's 'Life Simple 7' cardiovascular health score - which takes in multiple life factors into account to determine someone's risk of heart disease - could also prevent dementia.
The score is the sum of four behavioural (smoking, diet, physical activity, body mass index) and three biological (fasting glucose, blood cholesterol, blood pressure) metrics, categorised into poor (scores 0-6), intermediate (7-11), and optimal (12-14) cardiovascular health.
The patients with a higher Life Simple 7 score at 50 had a lower risk of developing dementia. For every one-point increase in a patient's cardiovascular score, their risk of dementia went down by 11%.
A better heart health score at 50 was also associated with higher grey matter volume in the brain in scans 20 years later.
The researchers said: “The implications from this study and many others are that the healthier the vascular system is in midlife, the lower the risk of subsequent dementia. This provides further support for the UK Government’s recent policy focus on vascular health in midlife."
“However, other evidence makes clear that vascular health at 50 is determined by factors earlier in the life course, including inequality and social and economic determinants."
Fiona Carragher, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer's Society, said the results of this study 'aren't completely new'.
However, she added: "It adds to a growing bank of evidence to support the link between heart and brain health. It is encouraging to see practical steps people can take to help to reduce their risk of dementia in later life. We encourage everyone to swap out crisps and the sofa for a stroll in the park and a healthy picnic."