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(CNN) –Having cardiovascular risk factors from infancy to adulthood is linked to poor cognitive performance in your 30s, 40s and 50s, according to new research that followed minors for three decades.
The researchers say the study is the first to reveal the impact of cardiovascular risk factors throughout life on the brain in midlife.
The more cardiovascular risk factors a person had, such as obesity, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels, the poorer their performance on memory and thinking tests, according to the study published Monday in the Association’s journal Circulation. American Heart.
“One-third of American children are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk for type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure in childhood and at increased risk for heart disease and stroke in adulthood,” he said. Dr. Eduardo Sánchez, chief prevention physician for the American Heart Association (AHA), in a statement.
According to the study, this type of information is important for early detection and prevention, as there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or other major causes of dementia.
“If we can solve some of these problems early on, it has been shown to lead not only to a much better cognitive life, but also to a much better cardiovascular life as we reach middle age and beyond,” said Dr. Thuy Bui, spokesperson for the American Health Association, associate medical director of the emergency department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, who was not involved in the study.
Three decades of study
The research began in 1980, when some 3,600 randomly selected Finnish boys and girls, aged between 3 and 18, were chosen to take part in the Finnish Youth Cardiovascular Risk Study. It was designed to study cardiovascular risk from infancy to adulthood.
The children, all white, were followed every three years until the age of 12, and then periodically over a period of 31 years. At each visit, the researchers checked weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and insulin levels, while looking at lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol use, diet, and physical activity.
In 2011, more than 2,000 of the study participants, ranging in age from 34 to 49, underwent a computerized cognitive function test that measured episodic memory, short-term working memory, reaction, visual processing and attention.
The researchers found that children who became adults with consistently high systolic blood pressure, that is, the higher reading, or elevated total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, performed worse on memory tests. and learning in middle age.
People who were obese from infancy to adulthood had lower visual processing speed and more trouble paying attention. Those who had the three risk factors (high blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity) since they were children obtained worse results in many areas: They had poorer memory, worse visual processing and associative learning capacity, lower attention span and slower reaction speed. .
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“We can use these results to move brain health care from old age and middle age to people in younger age groups,” says first author Juuso Hakala, a doctoral student in preventive cardiology at the University of Turku, in Finland.
“Children who have adverse cardiovascular risk factors may benefit from early intervention and lifestyle modifications,” Hakala said in a statement.
The study was observational and therefore cannot confirm cause and effect without additional research, the authors said.
Also, since all participants were white, the study may not be generalizable to all populations.
Interventions in childhood
If you are concerned about your child’s current and future health, the first place to start is your pediatrician, Bui said. Pediatricians can not only check that your child’s blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol are within normal limits for their age, but they are a great source of information.
“Pediatricians are the guardians of prevention,” Bui said. “They can give you great ideas, tips, advice and guidelines on how much activity your child needs or what fruits and vegetables to eat.”
According to experts, parents should help their children overcome physical health challenges such as obesity, being an example of healthy behavior.
“We know that children tend to copy adults, especially when they are younger,” said Bui. “If they see you trying to eat healthy, if they see you trying to go out and take a walk around the neighborhood, those are things that they imitate and copy and the more they copy, the more ingrained it will be in their future lives.”
Parents have many resources they can use, including those on the AHA website. One of them is a 10-day challenge for families to stay active and eat healthy during the pandemic.
Here are some guidelines from the AHA on healthy behaviors:
To do physical exercise: Preschoolers should participate in about three hours a day of active outdoor play and structured movements, such as bean bag games, follow the leader, and musical chairs.
Older children need at least 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous intensity activity, such as speed biking, swimming, brisk walking up a hill, or playing team sports such as soccer, field hockey, racquetball or basketball. It doesn’t have to be everything at once, so try scheduling three 20-minute breaks throughout the day.
Eat Healthy: Estimated caloric needs for boys range from 900 calories per day for a 1-year-old boy to 1,800 calories for girls ages 14 to 18 and 2,200 calories for boys ages 14 to 18.
Choose from a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy, lean meat and fish, says the AHA, and limit your intake of trans fats, processed meats and sugary drinks.
How and when you eat is also important. “Healthy eating habits are encouraged when meals are served on a consistent schedule, and children select a variety of foods from healthy options they already enjoy, along with new foods in a relaxed environment,” says the AHA.
Screen time: The American Heart Association reinforces existing recommendations to limit screen time for children and teens to no more than one to two hours a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics has an interactive tool for creating a personalized media use plan for the family.
Current ideas to help parents include getting the whole family active, scheduling physical activity each day, removing television and mobile screen devices from the bedroom, and planning television viewing.