New research suggests that having less muscle and more body fat may negatively affect the flexibility of our thinking as we get older.
The study, conducted by Auriel Willette, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, and Brandon Klinedinst, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience at Iowa State University, examined direct measurements of lean muscle mass, abdominal fat, subcutaneous fat and their relation to changes in fluid intelligence over six years.
The concept of “fluid intelligence”, first used by psychologist Raymond Cattell and his student, John Horn, refers to the ability to think and reason flexibly.
Using the data of over 4,000 middle-aged to older men and women from the UK Biobank, Willette and Klinedinst found that middle-aged people who had higher amounts of fat in their midsection had worse fluid intelligence as they got older. These results weren’t influenced by the chronological age, level of education, and socioeconomic status, but rather by the biological age, which is the amount of fat and muscle.
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The link between fat or muscle and fluid intelligence may also be influenced by changes in immune system activity. People with a higher body mass index (BMI) have more immune system activity in their blood, activating the immune system in the brain and may hinder cognition, as previous studies suggested. However, it remains unclear whether fat, muscle or both jump-start the immune system.
Regarding the possibility of these newly found correlations to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Klinedinst stated that further studies would be needed.
While people usually begin to gain fat and lose lean muscle when entering middle age, the researchers recommended exercising and eating a healthy diet to maintain good fluid intelligence. Klinedinst suggested resistance training for middle-aged women as they generally have less muscle than men.
“If you eat alright and do at least brisk walking some of the time, it might help you with mentally staying quick on your feet,” Willette said. (vel/kes)
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