Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Blood Pressure Impacts Brain Age

Globally, about 31% of people suffer from high blood pressure, and 25-50% suffer from pre-hypertension.  All of these people are at increased risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Researchers examined the relationship between blood pressure and brain age, applying the validated BrainAGE Framework, using MRI brain scan data collected over 12 years.  Older brain age is found in people who have type 2 diabetes, mild cognitive impairment, and who are in poor health.  Younger brain age is found in people who meditate or play music. 

The study participants were 335 healthy middle-aged Australians (age 44-46) and 351 healthy older Australians (age 60-64) at the time of the first brain scan.  A BrainAGE of 0 means that a person’s brain appears to be the same as their chronological age.  A negative BrainAGE means the brain appears to be younger, and a positive BrainAGE means that the brain appears to be older, than the person’s chronological age. 

Over the 12-year timeframe, blood pressure gradually increased in the study participants.  On average, the male participants had more education and were more physically active, but also had higher blood pressure.  Women had a lower BrainAGE than men by about 10 months.

They study revealed that:

  • Participants with optimal blood pressure (lower than 115/75) had a brain that was 6 months younger than participants with pre-hypertension (135/85); and
  • The older brains of participants with higher blood pressure were not significantly different between the middle-aged and the older participants.  This indicates that the negative impact of elevated blood pressure on the brain does not emerge in old age, but likely occurs progressively and begins much earlier in life.

Takeaway:  To maintain good brain health, strive to keep blood pressure below 115/75.  To avoid premature brain aging, efforts to control blood pressure should begin in early adulthood.

Sources Nicolas Cherbuin, et al., Optimal Blood Pressure Keeps our Brains Younger, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, Oct. 5, 2021, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnagi.2021.694982/full.

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