If you’re looking for a way to keep your memory strong as you get older, new research says it helps to stay in shape. In fact, a new study shows that a larger waistline is associated with a greater degree of cognitive decline in adults of 60.1
When researchers at Trinity College Dublin analyzed the data on nearly 5,200 elderly Irish men and women participating in a national study looking at a variety of health and lifestyle factors, they made a startling discovery.
They found that a person’s waist-to-hip ratio may represent their level of cognitive function.
In particular, they found that the more belly fat an individual carried, the more likely they were to show some sort of cognitive deficit. More specifically, things like worsened memory, poor judgement and trouble thinking as they reached their 60’s.
People who are overweight tend to perform worse on memory and visuospatial tests, according to recent research. But prior to the Trinity College study very few research study’s had made the connection between belly fat and cognitive decline in older adults, especially in a group this large.
The study’s senior author Conal Cunningham a clinical associate professor in medical gerontology said, “while we have known for some time that obesity is associated with negative health consequences our study adds to emerging evidence suggesting that obesity and where we deposit our excess weight could influence our brain health. This has significant public health implications.”
The study authors believe that the cognitive decline is due to an increased secretion of specific inflammatory markers released from belly fat. These inflammatory markers have been linked to a higher risk of impaired and reduced cognitive function.
The authors however do warn against jumping to conclusions and assuming those with a high body mass index (BMI) will suffer from memory or cognitive problems, primarily because the figure doesn’t differentiate between fat and muscle.
In Dublin, these findings are extremely important because only 16% of men and 26% of women over 50 in Ireland have what is considered a normal BMI. That equates to more than 50% of the population being considered obese.
And while mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a common finding in elderly adults and causes a variety of problems with executive functions, it is not as serious as dementia, where people have difficulty with daily life.
However, it is considered an “intermediate stage” between normal healthy cognitive decline and dementia and may be the first step towards eventually leading to more severe cognitive problems.
Recently, Mayo Clinic researchers recently found that just exercising two times per week appeared to help reduce the development of MCI.
Regardless, the number of people affected by dementia continues to grow at rates that are considered alarming. According to several researchers, the data shows that by 2040, more than 81 million people around the world will suffer from dementia, that number is up considerably when compared to the just 24.3 million reported in 2001.