Being overweight is not healthy, no matter what your age. However, recent research suggests that lack of exercise among senior citizens with too much extra weight may well be risking more than their physical health. They may be risking their cognitive functions, too.
The study, conducted at Seoul National University Hospital Healthcare System in Korea, tested volunteers age 60 and older to determine whether brain skills may be affected by having excess body fat.1 The researchers calculated the body mass index (BMI) for the 250 participants as well as took the measurements of their waist circumferences and imaging of the abdominal area to detect fat stores. Then, the volunteers were given tests to assess cognitive performance.
The subjects between the ages of 60 and 70 with both high BMIs (25 and over is considered overweight) and a large amount of fat around the midsection scored lower on the brain skills testing. Since there has been no follow-up to this research, we do not know whether any of the participants is currently or can expect to develop dementia in the future, but it would seem likely based on the results. The bottom line, though, is that cognitive decline appears to start earlier for those carrying too many extra pounds, especially in the abdominal area.
Interestingly, the same link could not be made in volunteers over the age of 70. That may be due to an across-the-board lowering of cognitive skills due to aging, or possibly is the result of a statistical aberration because there was not a large enough sampling of this age group.
At any rate, this is hardly the first time a link has been found between being overweight and impaired brain function. Back in 2005, a study at the University of Washington discovered that individuals with high levels of insulin -- who demonstrate no other signs of diabetes -- have a much greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than the rest of the population.2 Diabetes is very common in overweight and obese people. And high levels of insulin circulating through the body result in inflammation of the blood vessels practically everywhere, including the brain. The brain reacts by increasing its levels of beta-amyloid, which is known to cause the formation of plaque deposits within the passageways of the brain and is a major factor in Alzheimer's disease.
We can, of course, take heart in the thought that this is far from a predetermined outcome. There are things we can do to improve our chances of not ending up with some form of dementia and losing weight now appears to be near the top of the list. In fact, research last year at the University of California in San Francisco found that we can cut our risk of Alzheimer's in half simply by modifying lifestyle factors.3
That study suggests that the single biggest risk factor leading to Alzheimer's in the US is lack of exercise. The researchers believe that 21 percent of all instances of the disease could be prevented if more people exercised regularly. Among the other factors within our control: quit smoking and eat more nutritiously to combat depression, hypertension, and diabetes, which have all been linked with cognitive decline.
You can't change your genes, but you can certainly exert a lot of influence on how your destiny plays out. You may be predisposed to some form of cognitive decline, high blood pressure, or weight issues because of a sluggish metabolism. But instead of giving up and lamenting the hand you were dealt, fight back. Leading a healthy lifestyle can improve your odds against developing a number of diseases as well as dementia. For example, you can supplement with an L-carnosine based formula to reduce beta-amyloid plaque in the brain. You can use a sugar metabolism enhancing formula to reduce insulin spikes. And you can start exercising every day and make changes to your diet so you will lose that excess weight, improve the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in your bloodstream, and find yourself fitter and feeling better than ever before. This helps both your brain and your body and may be just the thing to keep your brain skills clear and sharp as you get older.
In the meantime, if you're interested in learning more about the link between obesity and dementia, check out the following lecture by Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, Division Chief of Epidemiology, UCSD School of Medicine.
1 "Obesity harms 'later brain skill'." BBC News. 21 March 2012. Accessed 11 April 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17465404>.
2 DeNoon, Daniel J. "Obesity and Alzheimer's." WebMD. 8 August 2005. Accessed 12 April 2012. <http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/20061101/obesity-alzheimers-risk>.
3 Curley, Chris. "Cut Your Alzheimer's Risk by Reducing These Risk Factors." 21 July 2011. Well Being Wire. 11 August 2011. <http://wellbeingwire.meyouhealth.com/physical-health/cut-your-alzheimers-risk-by-reducing-these-risk-factors>.