Good cardiovascular health in your 20s may be linked to better brain health later in life

New US research has warned that even as early as our 20s it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle if we want to avoid problems with our brain health -- such as thinking and memory skills -- later in life.

Carried out by researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, the new study included 189 people with an average age of 24, who were followed for a period of 30 years. During this time, participants underwent eight assessments which measured their cardiovascular health based on whether they smoked, their body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, total cholesterol and fasting blood glucose level.

At the end of the 30 years, the participants then had their thinking and memory skills tested, as well as their cerebral autoregulation, which is the brain's ability to regulate its blood flow.

The findings from the preliminary study, which will be presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology's 72nd Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada, showed that the participants who had better cardiovascular health at the start of the study were more likely to have higher scores on the thinking and memory tests 30 years later.

More specifically, on an attention skills test where scores ranged from seven to 103, each point higher on the cardiovascular health score was associated with a 2.2 points higher score in attention skills.

In addition, the participants who had better cardiovascular health when they were younger were also more likely to have better cerebral autoregulation later in life, which means the brain is able to maintain a stable blood flow even during changes in blood pressure.

The findings also held true even after the research took into account potentially influencing factors such as the participants' level of education.

"These results indicate that people need to pay close attention to their health even in their early 20s," said study author Farzaneh A. Sorond, MD, PhD. "We've known that vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels are linked to cerebrovascular damage and problems with thinking skills in older people, but this study shows that these factors may be linked decades earlier and injury may start much earlier."

"More focus on a life course research approach is needed to help us better understand how these vascular risk factors affect brain health as we age," Sorond added.