Association between cardiovascular health and cognitive performance: a twins study

Authors: Ambar Kulshreshtha, Margarethe Goetz, Alvaro Alonso, Amit J. Shah, J. Douglas Bremner, Jack Goldberg, Viola Vaccarino


Background/Objective: The 2020 Strategic Impact Goal introduced by the American Heart Association (AHA) aims at improving cardiovascular health (CVH) of all Americans by 20%. AHA defined ideal CVH across seven established modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Prior studies have indicated that ideal CVH also benefits brain health and cognitive aging, but it is possible that this association is explained by familial factors.

Methods: We examined 272 male monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs (total 544 subjects) free of overt cardiovascular disease and dementia from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry. Memory and learning were measured by Trail Making tests and Wechsler Memory Scale (Immediate and Delayed Memory tests and Visual Reproductive Test). Each of the seven CVH components (smoking, body mass index, physical activity, diet, total cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose) was scored per established criterion.

Results: The mean age of the twins was 55 years, 96% were whites, and 61% monozygotic. When considering twins as individuals, for every unit increase in CVH score (indicating better cardiovascular health), twins demonstrated faster cognitive processing speed (Trail B: – 5.6 s, 95% CI – 10.3, – 0.9; p = 0.03) and better story recall, both immediate (0.35, 95% CI 0.06, 0.62; p = 0.02) and delayed (0.39, 95% CI 0.08, 0.70; p = 0.01).

Conclusions: Better CVH is associated with better cognitive health in several domains. As suggested by within-pair analysis, this association is largely explained by familial factors, implying that early life exposures are shared determinants of both brain health and cardiovascular health.

Source: Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2019; 71 (3): 957