Approximately 55 million people across the globe have dementia, a progressive, degenerative, and ultimately fatal condition with no known cure. Sadly, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, by the year 2050, this number will more than double.
While dementia can’t be reversed, a new study suggests that there’s a surprising factor that may be associated with a significantly higher risk of dementia, especially in people over 60. Read on to discover if you’re at risk and what you can do to potentially lower your likelihood of the condition.
A new study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia followed a group of 2,147 adults aged 60 and older living in Sweden over the course of 12 years to determine whether or not a person’s heart rate at rest was associated with their eventual dementia risk.
The study’s researchers found that individuals whose resting heart rate averaged 80 beats per minute or higher were 55 percent more likely to develop dementia than those whose resting heart rate averaged between 60 and 69 beats per minute “independent of vascular risk factors and underlying [cardiovascular diseases].”
For the latest health news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter!
While the study’s authors noted that the study’s results don’t necessarily indicate causation between higher resting heart rates and dementia, further study may be warranted to research the relationship between cardiovascular health and dementia.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that subclinical or undiagnosed CVDs may contribute to this association,” the study’s researchers explained. In fact, a 2017 study published in JAMA Neurology found that risk factors for heart disease present in mid-life, including smoking, diabetes, prehypertension, and hypertension, among others, were associated with a greater risk of dementia.
Achieving a lower resting heart rate could be a major boon to not only your cardiovascular health but your cognitive health over time.
“In certain cases, a lower resting heart rate can mean a higher degree of physical fitness, which is associated with reduced rates of cardiac events like heart attacks,” Jason Wasfy, MD, director of quality and analytics at Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, explained to the Harvard Health Blog in 2021.
A 2018 review of research published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine suggests that various forms of exercise, ranging from endurance sports to yoga, can help reduce resting heart rate. What’s more, a 2017 study published in BMJ Open found that regular exercise itself was associated with lower rates of dementia among a group of 7,501 older adults.
While other research has linked better cardiovascular health with a lower risk of dementia, the authors of the Alzheimer’s & Dementia noted, “The correlation between RHR and physical activity was weak in our cohort, and the adjustment for physical activity had little impact on the effect estimates.”
However, the study’s lead author Yume Imahori, PhD, a researcher at the Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, noted that future research may provide researchers greater insight into how to stop dementia in its tracks. “If we follow such patients’ cognitive function carefully and intervene early, the onset of dementia might be delayed, which can have a substantial impact on their quality of life,” Imahori said in a statement.