A recent study has found that more muscle and less belly fat might be the key to preserving intelligence and brain health in advanced age.
The study found that people with more belly fat and less muscle mass had less “fluid intelligence” as they aged, and is likely the result of immune system changes initiated by the excess fat. Fluid intelligence is the ability to reason, learn and apply new things, think abstractly, and solve problems.
Excess belly fat is associated with a number of health problems including heart disease and other inflammatory conditions. On the other hand, they found that more muscle mass was associated with improved brain health and function.
Maintaining muscle mass with age, and building it can seem like a challenge. Muscle is much more expensive than fat, meaning you have to do a lot more to build and maintain it. Performing regular activity—including strength training—and eating enough protein are ways to build and keep muscle.
Without putting a concerted effort into maintaining muscle, it is very easy to lose. It wastes away slowly over time without the proper care, and a sedentary lifestyle can accelerate muscle loss. If left unchecked for long enough, sarcopenia can develop.
Maintaining mental fluidity is central to independent living. It increases your ability to make better decisions and learn new information in a fast-paced world. The better you can adapt to these changes, the more likely you are to maintain a high quality and independent lifestyle.
The lead researcher of the study said that “chronological age doesn’t seem to be a factor in fluid intelligence decreasing over time. It appears to be biological age, which is the amount of muscle and fat.” Instead, immune system activity sparked by excess belly fat seems to be the driver.
So, what can you do? Boosting activity by going for daily walks and lifting weights a couple of times per week is likely to help. For some people, simply spending more time upright and moving around can help. Eating food that is known to contribute to belly fat like processed meats and refined carbohydrates should be avoided most of the time too.
The brain-body connection is much closer than you might think. Taking care of your body may help you promote physical and mental independence as you advance in age.