A recent study by UCLA professor of neurology, Paul Thompson, found that obese and overweight seniors had less brain tissue and significantly older-looking brains than their lean peers. More specifically, based on the brain scans of 94 people in their seventies, the researchers found that those considered to be obese according to their BMI (Body Mass Index) had eight percent less lean brain tissue and their brains appeared about 16 years older than their lean counterparts. Correspondingly, it was discovered that the overweight subjects had four percent less brain tissue and their brains looked 8-years older than the brains of those considered to be within the normal-weight range.
The scientists found that the areas of the brain involved in planning and memory, attention and executive functions, and long-term memory were affected. This substantial loss of brain tissue was determined to put obese and overweight seniors at much greater risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer's, as well as the usual culprits: heart disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension and some cancers.
Another study, this one published in 2008, also suggests that being overweight speeds up the rate at which the brain ages. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the brains of 50 middle-aged participants, it was found that those who were overweight or obese had lower concentrations of NAA (N-acetyl-aspartate), a chemical that serves several functions in the brain and is a good indicator of overall brain health. The conclusion was that being heavy in one's 40s and 50s lowers the levels of several brain chemicals needed for optimal brain function, putting one at significantly greater risk for suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia in later years.
Harvard Medical School associate professor, John Ratey, M.D., in his 2008 book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, based on his study of hundreds of research papers, espouses the importance of aerobic exercise and maintaining a healthful body weight. He writes, "... we know with certainty that having a normal body mass index and a robust cardiovascularlar system optimizes your brain."
Ever more research, much of it with new, ultra-revealing imaging techniques (not available until recently) is showing that maintaining a healthy-body weight is not only easier on your joints and beneficial for your heart and whole cardiovascular system, but is good for your brain, too! While it is obvious that the young can often get away with a few extra pounds with minimal damage done, older folks are too frequently not so lucky. It appears that keeping those excess pounds at bay may be one of the smartest moves we can make to stay mentally sharp as the years pile on.
Ed Mayhew is a professional speaker and the author of Fitter After 50, Fitter for Life and AGE BLASTERS: 3 Steps to a Younger You www.YouCanGrowYounger.com www.FitterForLife.com Ask for Your F*R*E*E* Fitter After 50 e-newsletter