Better heart health can lead to a sharper mind for middle-aged Black women, a new study says.

Black women with worse heart health experienced a 10% decrease in their ability to think on their feet over two decades, researchers found.

On the other hand, Black women with good heart health showed little decline in their mental processing.

“Take care of your heart, and it will benefit your brain,” said lead researcher Imke Janssen,  a professor of family and preventive medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Better cardiovascular health in women in their 40s is important to prevent later-life Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and to maintain independent living.”

For the study, researchers assessed heart health among middle-aged Black and white women and compared it to cognitive tests the women took every one to two years for 20 years.

The study included 363 Black and 402 white women who started testing in 1997, when they were between the ages of 42 and 52.

The heart health measures included weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, as well as lifestyle factors like eating right, exercise, sleeping well and not smoking.

Black women in good heart health specifically had brain benefits when it came to processing speed, or how fast the mind can accurately recognize incoming visual and verbal information.

However, heart health had no association with the brain function of white women one way or the other, researchers found.

The new study was published April 24 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The results run counter to past studies, which found heart health to be more important to brain health in white people rather than Black people, Janssen said.

“We think these differences are due to the younger age of our participants, who began cognitive testing in their mid-40s, whereas previous studies started with adults about 10 to 20 years older,” Janssen said in a journal news release.

“The next step is a clinical trial to confirm whether optimizing heart health in Black women at midlife may slow cognitive aging, maximize independence and reduce racial inequities in dementia risk,” Janssen added.

More information

Harvard Medical School has more on heart health and brain health.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, April 24, 2024