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Could Excess Weight Impact Your Brain?

Could Excess Weight Impact Your Brain?

February 07, 2014

People who are obese face a higher likelihood of experiencing a number of conditions, including cardiac arrest and diabetes. Could people’s brains be affected by their weight as well? New research from SUNY Downstate Medical Center indicates a possible link between obesity and cognitive function, which could prompt older adults to reconsider their activity levels.


Brain function linked to body weight
According to the study, published in the journal Neuroimage: Clinical, cranial physiology may undergo changes as people gain weight. Researchers used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to examine the hippocampus – the part of the brain associated with the formation and retention of memory – in a wide range of sample subjects. They found a correlation between higher body mass and decreased levels of N-acetyl-aspartate, which contributes to brain cell health.


Although scientists say more research is needed to determine whether weight gain is a cause or effect of the NAA levels, they said the case is a landmark in connecting body weight with brain health.
“The relevance of the finding is that being overweight is associated with specific changes in a part of the brain that is crucial to memory formation and emotions, and probably to appetite,” said Jeremy Coplan, a doctor and professor of psychiatry at SUNY Downstate.

Senior Man smiling and laughing

Staying active for better mental health
For many people in senior assisted living, maintaining a healthy weight can be particularly challenging. As people age, limited mobility can complicate their ability to participate in activities they once enjoyed. As the study indicates, however, keeping in shape can provide wide-reaching benefits to seniors’ health.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults participate in about 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day. For seniors who worry about their ability to work out for extended periods, remember that the definition expands to include anything that increases a person’s heart rate from its resting levels. Instead of jogging for half an hour, for instance, consider inviting a friend along for a brisk walk. People who experience joint pain might still be able to participate in low-impact sports such as water aerobics or biking. Even regular responsibilities, including housecleaning, can count toward a senior’s daily dose of fitness.

Maintaining weight means eating well
Keeping in motion is only half of the battle when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. Seniors who are concerned about the number on the scale and what effect it could have on their cognitive ability should also pay attention to what they put into their body.


Working with a physician, seniors can develop a thorough nutritional plan. Although a health care provider can make modifications specific to needs, general recommendations include staying hydrated and incorporating sufficient fruits and vegetables into one’s daily diet, along with lean protein. Most people would do well to limit their intake of sugar, red meat and saturated fats. Combined with regular aerobic activity, seniors who stay in shape may be helping to boost their brain as well.

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