Brains, Muscles, Obesity and Aging

Obesity and aging is a neglected subject of growing importance. In people between the ages of 65 and 74 years, obesity quadrupled in men (10.4% to 41.5%) and grew by 74% in women (23.2% to 40.3%) between 1960 and 2010. The interaction of brain, muscles, obesity, and aging assumes considerable importance as people progress from mid-life (40-60) into older adulthood (60+).

Midlife obesity leads to significant reductions in cognitive function for older adults. The relationship is especially strong for mid-life obesity. Both brain structure and function are affected. Compared to normal weight adults, older adults with obesity have been shown to have physical deterioration of the frontal lobes, anterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus, and thalamus of the brain. Executive function (decision making), memory, and speed of thinking are all diminished in older adults with obesity.

Before this gets too depressing, let’s focus on what can be done. Of course, all the options for evidence-based obesity treatment with the help of a skilled professional can be helpful. But in particular, fitness training and physical activity can provide substantial benefit — both in reducing obesity and in reducing or reversing declines in cognitive function. Benefits may be greatest beginning in midlife, but adults of all ages can benefit substantially.

Obesity and aging are linked, but that link is something that we can alter by finding pleasure in fitness and physical activity.

Click here to for an excellent review of the subject just published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, here for a study of physical activity as in intervetion in older adults, and here for a position statement from the Obesity Society.

Fell in Love at the Seaside, photograph © @notnixon / flickr

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