Brain Power

March 06, 2014

We know that exercise makes us feel better and 'clears the mind' and recent studies have pointed out the benefits of exercise on mental stresses and work. Now, new research shows not only does obesity harm the brain, exercise may actually reverse those negative effects! Extensive research has indicated that sedentary, obese animals have lower memory and learning skills when compared to active, normal-weight animals. Recently, scientists have been trying to find out how excess weight affects the brain. Until recently, we thought that the brain was protected from excess weight ... after all, it contains no fat cells. But the research shows that obesity actually weakens the protection of the brain, allowing substances manufactured by fat cells to enter the brain. Additional research published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that as lab mice gained excess weight, larger doses interleukin 1, a substance know to cause inflammation, was found in their brains. Additionally, the mice had very low levels of a biochemical that helps support healthy synapse function. Researchers felt the results strongly indicated that fat cells were the main cause of the mice's cognitive decline in the study. The good news from new research is that simply introducing exercise into the mice's regimen gives substantial protection the bad effects of a sedentary lifestyle on the brain! This research adds on to what we already know:
  • Those extra pounds may weaken the brain's sensitivity to the pleasure we get from sugary and fatty foods, leading people to eat more for the same amount of pleasure. Research on animals found that eating foods with high fat and sugar content reduced responses to dopamine, known as the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter.
  • The orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain tasked with impulse control, appears shrunken in obese children compared to those of children with normal weight. More research needs to be done, but some researchers believe this may be a response to changes in the immune system caused by obesity.
  • A study published in the Annals of Neurology found that the belly fat that shows up as you enter middle age is actually associated with a decrease in total brain volume! Researchers believe that belly fat, or visceral fat may contribute to a reduction of brain size.
  • A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that may impair memory. The study included 8,745 women ages 65 to 79 and found that each 1 point increase in an woman's body mass index (BMI) was corresponded to a 1 point decrease on a 100 point memory test.
Strong findings that should spur us all to get off the couch.. get started now! Why wait for spring to be a lean, mean, thinking machine!

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