Trimmer Waistline May Mean a Sharper Mind
EVIDENCE CONTINUES to mount that keeping fit
may help protect your brain. Scottish and French
researchers, in two separate studies published in the
journal Neurology, recently concluded that people
with a greater degree of lifelong fitness are more likely
to have better cognitive function into old age.
In the Scottish study, 460 surviving participants of the
1932 Scottish Mental Survey were given the same general
cognitive test at ages 11 and 79. Subjects also were tested on
their grip strength, six-meter walk time and lung function.
Results showed a positive correlation between physical fitness
and improved cognitive aging.
“Intervention studies aimed at making older people fitter
are good candidates to improve cognitive aging,” concluded
lead researcher Ian J. Deary, PhD, of the University of
In the French study, researchers at Toulouse University
Hospital also looked at the fitness-cognition connection and
found that the higher the subjects’ Body Mass Index (BMI),
the lower their scores on cognitive performance tests, both at
the beginning of the study and at a five-year follow-up. The
study compared cognitive function data on 2,223 subjects,
ages 32 to 62 at the beginning of the study. Participants were
tested on their ability to learn and retain lists of words, substitute
symbols and maintain attention.
After adjusting for physical, psychosocial and other covariables,
researchers found that participants with a higher
BMI had lower cognitive scores. In fact, a higher BMI at the beginning of the study was associated with even higher cognitive
decline at follow-up, suggesting that the earlier in life
people get fit, the better for their long-term cognitive health.
American scientists concur. Research presented at the
American Academy of Neurology meeting last year also suggests
that “middle-aged spread” may be linked to a greater
risk of Alzheimer’s disease (see the July 2006 Healthletter).
Rachel A. Whitmer, PhD, of Kaiser Permanente in Oakland
and colleagues compared the body fat measurements of
8,776 men and women, ages 40 to 45, and found a statistically
significant link between flab and subjects’ rate of developing
Alzheimer’s disease over an average of 23 years later.
Those findings support a previous Whitmer-led study,
published in 2005 in the British Medical Journal, that looked
at 10,276 men and women over a 27-year span. In that
study, obese people had a 74% increased risk of dementia
and overweight subjects had a 35% greater risk, compared
to those with normal BMI. Those with the greatest skinfold
thickness, as measured by calipers, had a 59-72% greater
risk of dementia.
Though researchers stopped short of saying a leaner
waistline can prevent cognitive decline, the results add yet
another reason to trade your rocking chair for walking shoes.