Excess body weight may harm your thinking skills

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In a new study from McMaster University, researchers found being overweight or obese may also impair your thinking skills.

They found fat’s direct harm on one’s ability to think quickly, with rising body fat levels linked to diminishing mental health returns.

They identified a fat-induced slow-down in “processing speed”—meaning the time it takes to absorb, understand, and react to sights, sounds, or movement.

In the study between 2010 and 2018, nearly 9,200 adults aged 30 to 75 years (average age: 58) were enrolled. None had a prior history of heart disease.

Participants underwent brain scans (MRIs), total body fat measurements, and assessments of belly fat.

They completed two tests that examined attention skills, concentration, short-term memory, eye-hand speed and coordination, and the ability to learn and/or calculate new information.

The team found carrying excess weight—regardless of where—was found to pose a threat to heart health, with higher overall body fat and abdominal fat driving up both high blood pressure and diabetes risk.

Excess body fat also appeared to boost the risk for brain injury, including lesions or the kind of markers that indicate a history of unrecognized (“silent”) strokes.

And the team noted that poorer heart health has long been known to put a person’s ability to think clearly and quickly at risk.

Furthermore, the team found what appears to be excess fat’s direct damage to thinking, even after taking into account heart health, brain status and education.

There is a direct more-is-more dynamic: As body fat rose, people processed information more slowly, as if their brains had actually aged.

Specifically, the team noted that a participant’s ability to think “aged” up by about one year for every 9% increase in overall body fat.

Processing speed and attention skills declined with rising fat levels. But verbal understanding and memory skills did not appear to be similarly affected.

The team says it remains unclear whether a fat-induced loss of processing speed is permanent or if slimming down might reverse the situation.

Either way, avoidance is key. Try to keep active and eat a healthy diet to prevent pounds from piling on to begin with.

If you care about weight management, please read studies about common eating habits that could cause too much weight gain, and exercise that has unique benefits for weight loss.

For more information about wellness, please see recent studies about popular weight loss diet that can harm your liver health, and results showing this common weight-loss drug can reduce body fat, protect your heart.

The study is published in JAMA Network Open, and was conducted by Dr. Sonia Anand et al.

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