Study: Increased Heart Rate Linked to Dementia Risk

August 15, 2022

Confusion, verbal difficulties, and poor judgment are some of the warning signs of dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association.1 However, a recent study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia raises the possibility that there may be another non-mental factor to take into account: resting heart rate (RHR).

About the Study

Every three or six years between 2001 and 2004 and 2013 and 2016, researchers tracked several health markers in more than 2,000 Swedish citizens 60 and older. These markers included their resting heart rate (RHR), which is measured in beats per minute (bpm), and is typically between 60 and 80 bpm. Adults who are physically fit can have a rate under 60, and the higher end is linked to more health problems, such as metabolic syndrome. An RHR over 80 is regarded as unsatisfactory for those over the age of 65.

Participants in the recent study who averaged that amount had a 55% higher risk of dementia than those whose RHR ranged from 60 to 69 bpm. Because of this, experts advise that RHR be taken into account much earlier, perhaps even during dementia screenings.

"We believe that early intervention, by identifying those with higher dementia risk, could have a substantial impact on quality of life since dementia onset may be able to be delayed," says lead author Yume Imahori, PhD, in the Department of Neurobiology at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

Possible Reasons

Dr. Imahori believes that although though the study could not prove a causative link, dementia and cardiovascular disease may be related, which may provide an explanation. According to the National Institutes of Health, high blood pressure is a significant risk factor because issues with the vascular system can affect the brain's blood supply, which may aid in the onset of dementia. Dr. Imahori adds that a high RHR may indicate cardiovascular issues even if those have not yet been diagnosed. That suggests that those with greater RHRs may be more susceptible to heart disease as well as dementia. Inactivity is probably another factor. Since a lower RHR is thought to be a sign of fitness, people with greater levels are generally more sedentary.

People who engage in sedentary behavior had a 30% increased chance of developing dementia, according to a meta-analysis involving more than 250,000 participants. According to that study, potential risk factors for cardiovascular disease include excessive cholesterol, poor glucose regulation, and inflammation. According to Dr. Imahori, it is becoming more and more crucial to understand these correlations as the epidemic of dementia around the world is rising quickly. By 2050, 115 million people are anticipated to be affected by the illness. According to her, a straightforward detection technique like RHR may serve as an early warning indicator that encourages people to adopt healthy living practices.

Adjusting Your Heart Rate

According to Rocky Snyder, CSCS, conditioning and strength coach and author of "Return to Center: Strength Training to Realign the Body, Recover from Pain, and Achieve Optimal Performance," consistent exercise is the best way to lower RHR. It can also address an aging-related decline in muscle mass, balance, flexibility, power, and speed, as well as improve heart rate and your overall cardiovascular system.

“Unfortunately, when the body reduces its activity level, the aging process accelerates,” he notes. “Staying active on a regular basis is the key to maintaining and recovering strength. Typically, in our culture, as people age, they are encouraged to slow down. But we shouldn't become less active, quite the contrary."

Snyder says that older adults starting an exercise regimen should first consult a healthcare professional, especially if they have cardiovascular difficulties, and then start off slowly. He adds that while strength is crucial, a program should also focus on mobility, flexibility, coordination, speed, and endurance. He also suggests getting advice from a licensed fitness expert who has experience working with senior citizens. Your RHR will probably get better with training over time, but if exercise doesn't seem to be helping, consult a doctor right away. There could be several underlying causes that are keeping it high.

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