Keeping the heart and blood vessels healthy reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, a new report suggests.
According to the paper released by the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), cardiovascular problems increase the risk of memory, thinking problems and dementia.
These include factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, an inactive lifestyle and obesity.
Researchers say that the more cardiovascular problems a person has, the greater the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
The Brain-Heart Connection report summarises various research on the topic by the GCBH.
It sets out that factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking, which damage blood vessel walls over time, likely increase the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
These conditions and behaviours can directly damage the brain through tiny strokes, and their effects will add up over time, according to the paper.
Scientists say it remains unclear how these tiny strokes contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
However, they agree that regardless of the exact mechanism, keeping the blood vessels and blood flow healthy is key to maintaining your brain function as you age.
A heart-healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of exercise and a healthy diet reduces the risk of cognitive decline, the report suggests.
The GCBH also concluded there is strong evidence to show that it is never too late to start treating those conditions or taking steps to help reduce the risks, even for those in their 70s or 80s.
The earlier a healthy lifestyle is adopted and any cardiovascular problems are treated, the better for a lifetime of a healthier brain.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: “Learning more about how to preserve good brain health later in life is extremely important.
“Diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels also affect the blood vessels in the brain and can cause damage there.
“The good news is that we can take steps to reduce our chances of cognitive decline and we can take positive action to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia.
“Having better control of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, reducing the intake of salt and excessive alcohol, stopping smoking and taking steps to reduce the risk of having a stroke – which is one of the strongest risk factors for dementia – all help to reduce that risk.”
The experts make a number of recommendations, which include being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight with a balance of good diet and exercise, and making time to manage stress levels.