How to live longer: The condition to avoid at age 36 or risk ‘premature brain ageing’

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Brain health can be preserved by eating healthily and getting enough exercise, but there are several other factors to consider. Poor heart health, characterised by chest pain, shortness of breath and numbness in the extremities, may be a lesser-known risk factor for brain deterioration. A new study has warned that having such complications at 36 could be a significant predictor of premature brain ageing.

A team of researchers at UCL identified a score of risk factors for premature brain ageing using MRI scans and machine learning.

Their findings, published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity, show that poor heart health at 36 was a significant predictor of higher brain age later in life.

Higher brain age is usually reflected in poorer scores on cognitive tests, as well as increased brain shrinkage.

The lead author of the study, Professor Jonathan Schott said: “We found that despite people in this study all being of very similar ages, there was a wide variation in how old the computer model predicted their brains to be.

“We hope this technique could one day be a useful tool for identifying people at risk of accelerated ageing, so that they may be offered early, targeted prevention strategies to improve their brain health.”

The study was conducted on members of the Insight 46 Study, who have partaken in the research throughout their lives.

This allowed researchers to compare their brain ages at various points in time over their life course.

They did this by applying an MRI-based machine learning model that could estimate the brain ages of participants.

All volunteers were aged between 69 and 72 years old, but the participants’ estimated brain ages ranged from 46 to 93.

About a third of this variability in age was attributed to several different factors over the course of participants’ life.

They found that individuals with poor heart health at ages 36 to 69 appeared to have increased cerebrovascular disease on their MRI scans.

The findings chime with previous research by the same team which established a connection between high blood pressure at age 36 and poorer brain health in later life.

Doctor Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, commented: “The Insight 46 study is helping reveal more about the complex relationship between the different factors influencing people’s brain health throughout their life.

“Using machine learning, researchers in this study have uncovered yet more evidence that poorer heart health in midlife is linked to greater brain shrinkage in later life.

“We’re incredibly grateful to the dedicated group of individuals who have contributed to research their entire lives to making this work possible.”

In 2021, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention published an entry on its site highlighting the importance of keeping the heart healthy to prevent poor health outcomes like dementia and stroke.

The health body explained that the heart pumps blood through vessels to every part of the body, including the brain.

It recommends five steps to reduce the risk of vascular complications, which are:

  • Control your blood pressure
  • Eat healthy foods and limit alcohol
  • Get diabetes under control
  • Don’t smoke
  • Stay active

If the blood vessels become damaged due to poor heart health, it can pave the way to other serious health conditions.

“Keeping your blood vessels healthy can help you have a strong heart and brain,” explained the CDC.

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