Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Better heart healthy in middle age may help reduce a person's risk significantly for dementia later in life, a study published Tuesday by the journal PLOS Medicine found.
Adults with "ideal" results on several cardiovascular health metrics -- based on smoking history, engagement in physical activity, body weight, cholesterol levels and blood pressure -- were found to be 86% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those who did not score as well on these measures, the data showed.
Even adults who performed moderately well on these metrics were able to reduce their risk for dementia by up to 50%, the researchers said.
"Maintaining cardiovascular health -- for example, a normal blood pressure and glucose, healthy body mass index -- from middle age to late life may help lower the risk of dementia," study co-author Chengxuan Qiu told UPI.
"Adopting a healthy lifestyle across middle age and late life can help reduce the risk of dementia," said Qiu, an associate professor and senior lecturer in aging research at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
Multiple studies have linked heart health, particularly having high blood pressure, with cognitive decline, which can include problems with memory, verbal fluency, attention and concentration.
For this study, Qiu and his colleagues monitored the heart and brain health of 1,449 people in Finland who enrolled in the Finnish Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia study between 1972 and 1988, with 744 dementia-free survivors followed further into late life, up to 2008.
Participants' heart health was evaluated from midlife to late life according to six factors. Three were behavioral -- smoking status, physical activity and body mass index. Three were biological -- fasting plasma glucose, or blood sugar, total cholesterol and blood pressure .
Dementia was diagnosed in 61 people in the first follow-up, and additional 47 people in the second, the researchers said.
Compared to participants who performed poorly on the heart-health measures in middle age, those who performed moderately well had a 29% lower risk for dementia, while those with "ideal" levels had a 48% lower risk, the data showed.
Those who performed moderately well on these metrics in both middle age and later in life reduced their dementia risk by 75%, while those with ideal levels on these metrics lowered their risk by 86%, compared to those who did poorly, the researchers said.
The findings suggest that maintaining lifelong heart health, particularly by not smoking, exercising regularly and keeping to a healthy weight may reduce dementia risk later in life, they said.
"Generally, what is good for the heart is good for the brain," Qiu said.
"The heart and the brain are closely connected as people age, [so] having a healthy heart may promote a healthy brain and preserve brain function, thus reducing dementia risk," he said.