The researchers from the University of Miami and the Columbia University used the American Heart Association's "Life's Simple Seven" definition of cardiovascular health, which includes tobacco avoidance, ideal levels of weight, physical activity, healthy diet, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose.

"Achieving the health metrics of Life's Simple 7 is associated with a reduced risk of strokes and heart attacks, even among the elderly," said study lead author Hannah Gardener from the University of Miami.

At the beginning of the study, published recently in Journal of the American Heart Association, 1,033 participants were tested for memory, thinking and brain processing speed.

Brain processing speed measures how quickly a person is able to perform tasks that require focused attention. Approximately six years later, 722 participants repeated the cognitive testing, which allowed researchers to measure performance over time.

The researchers found that having more cardiovascular health factors was associated with less decline over time in processing speed, memory and executive functioning, which is associated with focusing, time management and other cognitive skills.