According to an alarming, new study from the on-line Neurology journal, if you’re overweight, particularly around your mid-section, you likely have shrunken the volume of gray matter in your brain. This gray matter contains the majority of your brain’s 100 billion nerve cells, which, as it shrinks, can increase your risk of dementia, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, to name a few. Gray matter is responsible for processing information in your brain.
This study, based out of the UK, involved 9,652 middle-aged participants, the highest number of subjects ever used in a study of this nature. Scientists used the subject’s Body Mass Index (BMI) as well as their waist to hip ratio to calculate whether they were considered overweight. Their brain volume was scanned using an MRI. Scientists incorporated the participant’s age, levels of physical activity, blood pressure and whether the individuals smoked to determine external factors that could also lead to reduced gray matter in the brain.
The study’s findings concluded that those with a high waist to hip measurement and a high BMI had the lowest volume of gray matter. They found a direct correlation between increasing waistlines and reductions in brain size. Interestingly, this correlation was relevant to specific regions in the brain, all of which are connected to motivation and reward. Mark Hamer, the author of this study, reported that it remains unclear whether these abnormalities in brain structure lead to obesity, or vice versa.
Assistant Professor Cara Bohon, with the Stanford University School of Medicine, noted that this connection between reduced brain volume and an increasing waistline could suggest that inflammation and vascular factors may be connected here. “If there are nutritional factors impacting brain volume, these same nutritional factors could be a direct cause of obesity.” Bohon would like to see additional research to explore inflammation, nutrition and vascular health as it relates to brain health and obesity. Her own research has shown that weight loss can reverse these changes in brain volume, differing for each patient.
Health experts recommend lifestyle choices that are easy to incorporate into your life with an aim at protecting the life of your brain. A few of these suggestions include:
You know this already, but the same Neurology journal that published the study noted above suggests that regular exercise can delay brain aging by 10 years, so get up and get moving! Exercise has a wide array of health benefits, including for your mental well-being. You can read about several quick and easy ways to incorporate movement into your daily life here.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, engaging in the world around you through conversations with others will help to reduce your risk of dementia and keep your brain firing as it should.
In other words, pay attention to what you are eating each and every day. Diets consisting of healthy, whole foods are best. Many doctors agree that the Mediterranean Diet, which consists of reduced red meat and saturated fats and increased fiber, legumes, fish and nuts, is one of the best ways to feed your brain and keep it healthy. There are also many supplements that can help benefit the brain. It is best to discuss these with your medical doctor first.
Train your brain
Keeping your mind sharp is key to good brain health. Reading books or magazines, playing games, jigsaw puzzles and even some computer games can exercise your brain. Find something you enjoy and give your brain a workout!
We recently wrote about a psycho-neuro-immunology based study out of the U.S. that reported subjects who laughed at humorous material for 30 minutes a day had fewer arrhythmias, lower blood pressure, lower stress levels and required less heart-based medications. Your physical body cannot tell the difference between genuine or forced laughter, just as long as you’re laughing. Laughter forces a rush of happy endorphins to the brain, so give it a try and notice the difference in the way you feel.
Ultimately, this new study shows that abdominal fat can negatively impact even more areas of health than have previously been confirmed. It is imperative that you keep your body weight under control in order to live a longer, healthier life.