The health risks associated with being overweight or obese are well-known and well-researched. Heart issues, blood pressure problems, and reduced lung capacity are just a few of the many negative side effects associated with being overweight. Now, though, new research is indicating that obesity can also lead to a decline in cognitive health, too.
What is truncal obesity?
The research studied truncal or visceral obesity, specifically, or the fat that covers your abdominal organs. It also took into account total body fat percentage in an effort to differentiate the types of “healthy” fat in other areas of the body (like brown adipose fat which is stored in the sternum and shoulders).
Originally published in JAMA Network Open, the research looked at two different brain function tests, DSST and MoCA, to study a range of cognitive functions. Researchers found that higher total body fat and visceral fat correlated with lower scores on both brain function tests, but especially the DSST, which assesses cognitive processing speed. Therefore, obesity literally makes you slower — both physically and mentally.
Another way to express the results is via lifespan and aging. Participants in the study with the highest percentages of body fat showed cognitive decline that would be equivalent to 3 additional years of aging. Three years may not seem like much, but it’s actually an incredible amount of time considering how much knowledge can be accumulated.
So what can we do about it?
It’s worth noting that there is not currently a “simple” solution to our obesity epidemic. The people suffering most often are trying (or have tried) different methods to lose or keep the weight off. If you are overweight or obese, it would be beneficial to work with a medical specialist to help you manage your weight and reduce your overall health risks.
Obviously, the best way to combat obesity and therefore prevent unnecessary cognitive decline is to eat better and exercise regularly.
Exercise (even light cardio is immensely better than nothing at all)
Exercise can have a profound effect on the body, from decreasing inflammation to improving cardiovascular health, and much more. The major benefit to exercise is building muscle, which helps burn body fat via thermogenesis. Strength training 3 to 4 times per week for 30 minutes will transform your life in innumerable ways.
Walking is another form of exercise that can make a huge impact on our body’s ability to digest our food, improve blood flow, and more. Walking for 10-15 minutes after meals can help support blood sugar regulation.
Nutrition also plays a big role in promoting a healthy body. Aim to reduce the amount of processed, hyper-palatable foods; and then increase servings of whole foods like fresh produce, meat, fish, nuts, and seeds. Prioritizing protein at each meal will help to maintain a healthy balance of body fat and lean muscle mass.
We have more control over our health than we think. With great power, however, comes great responsibility, and the responsibility lies on each of us to support our bodies in health as we continue to age.