Life’s Simple 7 Benefit Heart and Mind

The American Heart Association developed Life’s Simple 7 in 2010 with the goal to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent by 2020.

These seven cardiovascular health factors may also benefit the brain health and cognitive aging of older adults, according to a multi-ethnic study published March 16 in the Journal of the American Heart Association. “Ideal Cardiovascular Health and Cognitive Aging in the Northern Manhattan Study” details research led by Hannah Gardener, ScD, Department of Neurology, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami.

The study followed 1,033 individuals with an average age of 72. Participants underwent neuropsychological testing for episodic memory, thinking and brain-processing speed. Six years later, 722 participants were retested.

Researchers found that participants who achieved gains in more of Life’s Simple 7 had less of a decline in processing speed and, to a lesser extent, executive functioning and episodic memory. The link was most pronounced for three cardiovascular health factors — ideal body mass index, lack of smoking and ideal fasting glucose.

The results won’t surprise clinicians.

“Does heart health equal cognitive health? There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence and research to suggest it does,” said CHI Health cardiologist Eric Van De Graaff, MD. “To me, this is stuff we’ve known for a long time. This is just one more piece.”

It’s easy to assume aging equals mental decline. That doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

“I think we underestimate and under-recognize geriatric depression,” said Dr. Van De Graaff. “I remind patients that a lot of this is vascular. The things that impact heart health impact cognitive health.”

Those vascular factors — atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, damage from smoking — can be mitigated.

“We know what helps us improve the general overall health of the blood vessels and that’s exercise, diet and not smoking. I tell my patients that activity is the key to aging,” said Dr. Van De Graaff. “It all leads to a lower risk of dementia, better memory and less depression as patients age.”

Study Results

from "Ideal Cardiovascular Health and Cognitive Aging in the Northern Manhattan Study"

Microcardio graph

Eric Van De Graaff, MD