Being overweight later in life leads to faster brain aging, study says
05/27/2020 // Arsenio Toledo // Views

A new study has found that having a higher body mass and a larger waist later in life can lead to faster brain aging. While being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for a variety of health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the study, published in the journal Neurology, reveals that excess weight is also a risk factor for cognitive problems.

Researchers at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine found that there is a connection between body mass index (BMI) and the rate at which the cerebral cortex grows thin because of aging. BMI refers to a person's weight-to-height ratio, which can properly determine whether he is overweight or obese.

Poor health in mid-life might accelerate brain aging when you're older

In the study, the researchers measured the BMIs of 1,289 participants whose average age was 64. At the beginning of the study, 346 had BMIs under 25, which denoted a healthy weight; 571 had BMIs ranging from 25 to 30, which signified that they were overweight; and 372 participants had BMIs over 30, which indicated obesity.

The researchers also measured the participants' waist circumferences. Those with healthy BMIs had an average waist circumference of 33 inches, while overweight participants had an average of 36 inches. Those who were obese had an average waist circumference of 41 inches.

During a follow-up assessment, which took place after an average of six years, the participants had MRI scans to measure their cortical thickness and total brain volume.


According to Tatjana Rundek, one of the study authors, those who had bigger waists and higher BMIs “were more likely to have thinning in the cortex area of the brain, which implies that obesity is associated with reduced gray matter.”

Rundek and her colleagues also found that these associations were especially strong in participants who were younger than 65. This meant that having poor health in mid-life may increase a person's risk of brain aging and problems with memory and thinking skills later in life. (Related: Lose weight standing around: New study finds standing rather than sitting for six hours per day prevents weight gain, aids weight loss.)

The researcher also reported that these associations remained even after they adjusted for other potential confounding factors, such as having hypertension, frequent alcohol consumption and smoking.

Based on these findings, Rundek and her team concluded that having a higher-than-normal BMI and a thicker waist circumference can speed up brain aging in older adults by at least 10 years.

“These results are exciting because they raise the possibility that by losing weight, people may be able to stave off [the] aging of their brains and potentially the memory and thinking problems that can come along with brain aging,” said Rundek.

The negative effects of being overweight

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 71.6 percent of American adults aged 20 and above are either overweight or obese. This is a terrifying statistic, especially since being overweight puts people at a higher risk of serious health conditions, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Body pain and problems with physical functioning
  • A lower quality of life
  • Mental health issues like anxiety and depression
  • Many types of cancer (e.g., liver cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, endometrial cancer and gallbladder cancer)

To slow down brain aging when you're older and reduce your risks of diabetes, stroke and cancer, maintain a healthy weight by exercising regularly, eliminating processed foods from your diet and eating plenty of nutritious fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Sources include: 1 2

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