Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and staying in shape are all important for your overall physical and mental health as you get older. But now, they may be extra critical for long-term brain function.
Researchers say that weight might play a bigger role than previously thought in prolonging healthy cognitive function and even reducing the amount of damage from Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases as you age.
What happens to the brain when you have Alzheimer’s disease?
With Alzheimer’s, the neurons in your brain, which transmit information around the brain and the rest of the body, begin to degenerate and eventually die due to inflammation, buildup of different proteins, and other factors.
Because of this, connections between various parts of the brain start to break down and shrink. This can cause symptoms like memory loss, mood swings, aggression, depression, wandering, and loss of inhibitions. While visible signs of the disease don’t often show up until at least your sixties, many of the cognitive issues that eventually lead to Alzheimer’s start years before symptoms ever appear.
How does obesity affect brain health and Alzheimer’s symptoms?
Researchers at the University of Sheffield published a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports taking a closer look at how obesity affects cognitive function over time. There were three groups of participants: Those who were deemed cognitively healthy, those with mild cognitive impairment, and those with mild Alzheimer’s. They also gathered two basic body composition measurements, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference.
The study found that people with mild Alzheimer’s who maintained a healthy body weight had healthier brain structures, particularly more grey matter, than the cognitively healthy participants who were classified as obese. The latter group of participants actually showed signs of brain structures that could be degenerating.
While researchers say that there’s still more work to do to look at that link, this preliminary work shows that obesity alters brain structures and can put you at a higher risk of cognitive decline.
How can you prevent Alzheimer’s?
Doctors believe that early intervention is important when it comes to Alzheimer’s, and that starts with maintaining a healthy weight. The sooner you’re able to do that, the better it’ll be in the long run.
There are plenty of simple lifestyle changes you can make to maintain a weight that works for you, like making small tweaks to your diet and incorporating exercise routines in the mix. Just make sure you talk to your doctor before making any bigger decisions about weight loss.