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Heart and Brain Health Linked - Alzheimer's Disease Risk can be Lowered by Exercise and Mental Stimulation

February 22nd 2006

Heart and Brain Health Linked - Alzheimer's Disease Risk can be Lowered by Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Lower Risk by Exercise

Heart health and brain health are associated with each other, according to a multi-Institute collaboration of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published online today in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.  It may be possible to maintain brain health as we age by making good lifestyle choices, such as exercise, learning new things and staying socially connected.

From the public health perspective, the researchers believe that by controlling cardiovascular (CV) risk factors we can help maintain “brain health”.  These factors include reducing blood pressure, reducing weight, reducing cholesterol, treating (or preferably avoiding) diabetes, and not smoking.

Committee chair Hugh Hendrie, MB, ChB, DSc, said “Based on our review of CV risk factors, the link between hypertension and cognitive decline was the most robust across studies.”  He is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine.


They found a close correlation between physical activity and brain health.  According to an Alzheimer’s Association press release “Three separate, large-scale, observational studies examined by the committee found that elders who exercise are less likely to experience cognitive decline. However, they caution that more research is needed before specific recommendations can be made about which types of exercise and how much exercise is beneficial.”  The authors point out that exercise is an inexpensive preventative treatment. 

"We found surprising consistency across the studies," committee member Marilyn Albert, PhD said.  “In particular, we found that well known risk factors for heart disease also are risk factors for cognitive decline, and that physical activity may reduce risk for cognitive decline and dementia in older adults." Marilyn is Director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Immediate Past Chair of the Alzheimer's Association Medical & Scientific Advisory Council.


Other protective factors included a higher education level, higher socio-economic status, emotional support, better initial performance on cognitive tests, better lung capacity, more physical exercise, moderate alcohol use, and use of vitamin supplements.

Although genetic influences are poorly understood at present, other factors such as social disengagement and a depressed mood, have been found to be associated with declining cognitive and emotional health late in life. Increased mental activity throughout life, such as learning new things, may also benefit brain health.

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