Cardiovascular risk factors are well known to increase one’s risk of a stroke, and or vascular dementia. There is a lot one can do to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke and maintain great heart health. I am sure you would like to know the evidence based risk factors for the aforementioned?

What are the risk factors for CVD and stroke?

In a recent paper published in the journal JAMA: Williamson et al used modifiable, evidence based risk factors in young adults (18-40 years) whom without any known evidence of  cerebrovascular disease. To investigate using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), if subjects brains were showing early signs of cerebrovascular disease. Cardiovascular risk factors that were measured ranged from: body mass index <25, cardiovascular fitness, alcohol consumption >8 drinks/week, non-smoker >6 months, blood pressure >130/80 mm Hg, cholesterol and fasting glucose.

What were the findings?

Each of the aforementioned risk factors were assigned a rating of 1, in a 8 point scale (8 separate risk factors). Scoring higher was inferred as having a low risk of cerebrovascular disease. Subjects that had more clinical risk factors (< 2 points), did show some early signs of cerebrovascular disease on MRI (1). Researchers found white matter hyperintensities, which are lesions contributing to demyelination of important neural fiber tracts in the central nervous system in subjects with <2 points. What does this mean? less connectivity = slower brain processes (executive functioning, working memory et cetera). For 18-40 year olds showing clinical signs this early- intervening with evidence based modalities would benefit the individual greatly.

So, how do I reduce the risk of developing cerebrovascular disease?

First of all- DON’T PANIC! although published in a reputable journal, the paper was a preliminary study, with further longitudinal studies required with a larger sample that is ethnically diverse. HOWEVER, all of the mentioned cardiovascular risk factors can be modifiable. The following 5 key points will get you in the right direction to good heart health!

Aerobic exercise: following the physical activity guidelines with 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. If you are sedentary >8 hours per day: aim for 75 minutes of accumulated physical activity per day.

High intensity interval training: 1-2 sessions per week, following an evidence based protocol, with guidance from your exercise physiologist and GP. Three 7-10 second sprints with a balanced work to rest ratio is suffice according to the literature.

Strength Training: 2-3 strength training sessions a week with accordance of the Exercise Sport Science Australia guidelines, with guidance from an accredited professional.

Sleep: although I am not a sleep physiologist, there is ample evidence relating poor sleep <6 hours/per night with CVD and insulin resistance. Sleeping 7-8 hours per night with optimal sleep hygiene is recommended by experts.

Nutrition: again, without being a nutritional expert: following evidence based guidelines (CSIRO), will ensure targeted bloods are met and there is less plaque build-up (atherosclerosis).

So there you go peeps! So many preventative ways you can keep your brain tissue myelinated! And your cardiovascular system in good “heart health”.


About the Author


  1. Williamson, W., Lewandowski, A., Forkert, N., Griffanti, L., Okell, T., Betts, J., Boardman, H., Siepmann, T., McKean, D., Huckstep, O., Francis, J., Neubauer, S., Phellan, R., Jenkinson, M., Doherty, A., Dawes, H., Frangou, E., Malamateniou, C., Foster, C. and Leeson, P. (2018). Association of Cardiovascular Risk Factors With MRI Indices of Cerebrovascular Structure and Function and White Matter Hyperintensities in Young Adults. JAMA, 320(7), p.665.
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