Doing This In Your 30s Can Reduce Your Dementia Risk In Your 70s, Study Finds
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in young adulthood is important for many reasons, not the least of which is setting you up to live your happiest, healthiest life. Well, 30-something hot-girl-walkers and gut-health-enthusiasts rejoice, because the health decisions you make when you're young can pay off for brain health in your 70s and beyond, new research finds.
The link between blood pressure and dementia risk
One recent study published in JAMA Network looked at signs of hypertension1 (high blood pressure) in early and mid-adulthood, as well as how those markers influenced brain health and dementia risk later in life.
Researchers studied over 400 adults in and around the San Francisco Bay Area over many years, collecting data when participants were around 30 and 40 years old and then following up with a brain health assessment when they were around 75 years old.
They found a significant correlation between hypertension in young adults, or those who eventually developed hypertension, and poorer brain health. Noted brain health factors included decreased brain and gray matter volume, as well as impacted white matter integrity.
They observed these effects to be particularly strong in men, although present in women as well.
While hypertension is often discussed in regard to heart health, this study demonstrated that our bodies possess an immense degree of interconnectedness, meaning that one system can strongly influence another.
Hypertension is certainly not something to be ignored, as it can lead to heart disease, and now it seems it could also contribute to poor brain health as you age.
Higher-than-average blood pressure can be seen in young adults, especially in association with unhealthy lifestyle factors, such as high stress levels, alcohol and tobacco use, as well as unhealthy dietary habits, and insufficient physical activity.
Managing your blood pressure
Avoiding hypertension might sound like something you hear in a pharmaceutical ad for someone well beyond young adulthood, but it’s something important to keep in check even starting in your 20s and 30s. Here are a few steps for ensuring you're setting yourself up for optimal heart and brain health as you grow older:
Figure out your baseline.
There are plenty of ways to easily measure your blood pressure, and determine whether you need to have a conversation with your doctor about addressing any abnormalities. For example, your blood pressure is usually checked during a routine physical. Alternatively, you can check it yourself at many drug stores for a small fee, or invest in an at-home monitor (they typically cost less than $50).
Stock up on supplements.
Stress-reducing supplements can be a game changer, especially when one or more of your lifestyle factors are less than ideal and difficult to change (hello, irrational bosses and chaotic family dynamics!). Botanical supplements can be a nice tool to keep around for those times when you feel yourself getting revved up and could use a hand bringing your nervous system back to baseline. Be sure to choose from supplements that have been meticulously vetted by experts, like those on mbg's best supplements for stress list. Some plant ingredients that have been studied for their relaxing properties include hemp, ashwagandha, lavender, Rhodiola, and lemon balm.
Assess your diet.
While inflammatory “fun” foods like burgers, pizza, and ice cream all have their place in a balanced diet, there’s no denying that eating mostly nutrient-dense, plant-forward meals does wonders for your health—your blood pressure included. If you’re trying to reduce your hypertension risk specifically, one of your favorite foods might just be high on the list for heart-healthy benefits.
This one is pretty plain and simple. Make sure you’re getting plenty of daily movement (bonus points for finding something you absolutely love like a dance class or long walks!). If you’re into Pilates or curious about it, it might be a great place to start when thinking about ways to lower your blood pressure.
Chill the heck out.
Avoiding stress is easier said than done, of course, but it’s especially important when managing high or rising blood pressure. If your life or job makes it impossible to avoid high stress, consider incorporating breathwork, meditation, or a small daily luxury to manage your overall levels.
While avoiding hypertension in young adulthood has long been recommended in pursuit of heart health, a recent study has found doing so may also help reduce risk factors for dementia and age-related cognitive decline. Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy lifestyle choices that folks in their 20s, 30s, and 40s can make today to start setting their hearts and brains up for success in their 70s.
Jenny is a San Francisco-based mbg health contributor, content designer, and climate & sustainability communications specialist. She is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara. An avid open-water swimmer, Jenny has worked for healthy living and nutrition brands like Sun Basket, Gather Around Nutrition, and Territory Foods.