People who have a healthy heart are more likely to have a healthy brain. It makes sense. After all, it’s your heart’s job to pump blood to all the important organs in your body, including your brain.
This common-sense reasoning has been backed up by a recent study. Researchers have found that people with the highest cardiac output for their body size — meaning those with the greatest blood flow from their heart — tend to have more brain volume. And a larger brain volume generally means a healthier brain.
The current study included more than 1,500 people who had participated in the Framingham Offspring Study. Their average age was 61 years, with 54% of the study volunteers being women. The research team excluded anyone with significant heart problems.
The research team noted that 10% of the study participants were smokers, nine percent had diabetes, and 28% had high blood pressure. Each study volunteer had MRI scans taken of their heart and brain to assess their cardiac index and brain volume.
The investigators found that people within the lowest and middle range of cardiac index had significantly lower brain volumes than people who had the highest cardiac index. In fact, the researchers found that people with the lowest cardiac output showed nearly two more years of brain aging than those with the highest cardiac output did. This connection held true even in people who had no known heart disease.
The researchers were a little confused by the results in the middle range. As the cardiac index improved, they expected to see the brain volume improve as well, but that turned out not to be the case. They didn’t expect the middle group — with normal cardiac index values — to have decreased brain volume.
The research team also found that the beneficial association between cardiac index and brain volume was strongest in people under 60 years old. They suggested that one reason for this finding may be that as people get older, they have more competing brain health factors, such as the development of dementia.
The researchers speculated that, just as someone’s weight, blood pressure and cholesterol can be measured to assess their heart disease risk, cardiac index and brain volume can also be measured to indicate brain health.
They concluded that controlling your heart disease risk factors by exercising regularly, eating right, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and managing high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes could lead to better heart AND brain health.
Yet more motivation to live a heart-healthy lifestyle — it could keep your brain healthy, too, and help you to avoid some pretty serious and devastating complications, like dementia.