The report will need to be further deepened by new research work, but according to a published study on Neurology, performing cardiovascular prevention at twenty years of age could have an impact on brain volume in the following decades. From healthy diets to physical activity to controlling risk factors such as hypertension and hypercholesterolemia, there are several aspects to be treated to protect both the heart and brain. We talk about this topic with Dr. Simona Marcheselli, Head of the Operations Unit for Emergency Neurology and Stroke Unit at the Humanitas Hospital.
Seven tips for a healthy heart
The principal author of the research from Northwestern University Feinberg in Chicago (United States), together with other scientists, evaluated this report in 518 people aged between eighteen and thirty years at the start of the study. Information was collected on weight, height, pressure values, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, nutrition and physical activity. To take a picture of their cardiovascular wellbeing, the research team used the seven rules defined by the American Heart Association (Life’s Simple 7):
- Blood pressure control
- Controlling blood cholesterol levels
- Glycaemia control without food
- No cigarette smoke
- Healthy and balanced diet
- Body weight in the norm
- Regular aerobic physical activity.
Each participant was given a score in light of the degree of adherence to the rules: zero in case of poor adhesion; one for an intermediate membership; two for the ideal one. 5% were in the first level, 62% and 33% in the other two. Twenty-five years after the start of the study, the cardiovascular wellbeing of participants was re-evaluated (percentages increased to 26%, 58% and 16% in the three groups). In addition, they also underwent a neuroimaging test to measure brain volume.
At the end of the research, it emerged that better scores by young people corresponded to a higher brain volume in middle age. The report was also confirmed for those who had a higher score at the beginning and twenty-five years later. It was also seen that the brain volume was reduced in smokers.
With aging, the brain naturally suffers from a reduction in its volume,” recalls Dr. Marcheselli. This is due to the fact that neuronal cells undergo degeneration and do not reproduce. Cardiovascular prevention could also have this additional benefit. Guaranteeing adequate oxygenation to the brain could counteract the loss of neurons regardless of their natural degeneration because it reduces the risk of cerebrovascular disorders related to brain death. Among the seven Life’s Simple Rules, the risk factors of stroke are also mentioned, such as hypertension or cigarette smoking,” the specialist concludes.
However, the study has some limitations: brain imaging was only performed once in a lifetime and it was not possible to infer a cause-effect relationship between cardiovascular prevention and brain volume. These are all aspects that deserve further confirmation from the research.