The study is to be presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Honolulu. Experts note that research presented at meetings has not been subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny given to research published in medical journals.
Dr. Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association, said an increasing body of research is showing the importance of cardiovascular health in maintaining brain function over a person's life span.
"The link between cardiovascular health and brain health is becoming increasingly important and recognized," said Sacco, a professor of neurology, epidemiology and human genetics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
High blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and inactivity can contribute to a narrowing of the large blood vessels throughout the body, but also the small blood vessels of the brain, Sacco explained.
Those changes can reduce blood flow, which can "starve the brain of oxygen and lead to changes in thinking, cognition and our mental abilities," he said.
Though the people in the study did not have Alzheimer's, other research suggests that hypertension, diabetes and poor cardiovascular health are a risk factor for both Alzheimer's and vascular dementia, he added.
"In the old days, we thought vascular risk factors only led to vascular dementia, but now we know vascular risk factors may also have an impact on Alzheimer's," Sacco said.
But the good news, he said, is that middle-aged adults can take steps to improve cardiovascular health, including eating a proper diet, exercising, controlling diabetes if they have it and, if applicable, taking the correct medications for hypertension, Sacco said.
"There is a hopeful note, which is that by controlling your vascular risk factors, you may be able t
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