It's no secret that extra pounds can lead to a slew of health problems. But here's a new issue: A Korean study suggests that as we age, higher body mass may take a toll on our brains, resulting in "lower cognitive function." Here, a brief guide to the research and why now is as good a time as ever to start losing that belly:
How did the study work?
Researchers analyzed 250 adults aged 60 and older to see if there was a link between obesity and cognitive decline. The study administrators calculated participants' body mass indexes (BMIs), used scans, and conducted cognition-based performance tests to determine whether there was indeed a connection.
What did researchers find?
Subjects with the highest BMIs — a measure of body fat based on a person's height and weight — possessed the lowest cognitive function. There was a "particular association" between visceral fat, or the fat found around the torso, and poor mental performance overall, says Mikaela Conley at ABC News. The results suggest that those with extra belly fat could be at higher risk for brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's. However, researchers saw no link between obesity and lower cognitive function in people older than 70.
Why the difference between the age groups?
It's "possible that the subjects with lower BMIs lost all their weight by that age because of dementia or other medical conditions," says Michelle Castillo at CBS News.
What do the results mean for those between 60 and 70?
"As patients gain central obesity," they increase their level of inflammatory and atherosclerotic agents that "wreak havoc on the brain," says Scripps Clinic's Dr. Ken Fujioca, who reviewed the study. That means that preventing obesity, "particularly central obesity, might be important for the prevention of cognitive decline or dementia," says Dr. Dae Hyun Yoon, the study's lead researcher. So that unsightly belly is worth losing now more now than ever.
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