Just last week we were warned that 1 in 8 baby-boomers will develop Alzheimer’s disease in the years to come. It is a frightening statistic because we still know too little about who is at risk (although family history is important) and how to prevent it. We do know that physical exercise can lower our risk of dementia by improving brain blood flow and removal of dangerous brain plaques that contribute to this feared brain disease.
Today in the online Journal of Neurology, researchers found that people with excess accumulation of belly fat (the dangerous visceral or deep abdominal fat that contributes to the easy to recognize apple-shape) had at least three times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than people with the smallest amount of belly fat. Belly fat is different than the fat that pads our thighs and hips. It is an active gland that produces chemicals, hormones and fatty acids leading to a rise in inflammation – the common denominator of most chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Now we can add to dementia to this list of dangers from excess belly fat. And as over 50% of Americans now have excess visceral fat, the numbers of people at risk for dementia could be staggering. For men, a waist size of over 40 inches is way too much dangerous fat; for women, a waist size of over 35 inches is too much.
Details of the study: Researchers in Northern California followed over 6500 middle-aged men and women for over 35 years, measuring their belly fat and other health risk factors. 16% of participants developed dementia.
However there is good news. Excess belly fat can be controlled with a healthy lifestyle – no medication needed. Even losing 2 inches around your waist can make a huge difference in your risk for serious diseases. Because most of us are hoping for the magic bullet that will shrink belly fat and keep us healthy, I call a healthy lifestyle the “healthy lifestyle pill”. It is a hard pill to swallow – and only 3-5 % of Americans actually follow a healthy lifestyle which includes a prudent diet (high fiber and healthy fats), no smoking, modest amounts of alcohol, regular exercise (30 minutes of walking on most days), and avoiding weight gain (or better yet, avoid waist gain). Yes, you have heard that before, but if avoiding heart disease and many cancers with a healthy lifestyle has not served as sufficient motivation, surely doing all you can to avoid dementia in old age should spur you to action.
To learn more about the health implications of body shape, what body shape you have, to download forms for your shape to help track your health, and to learn more how to reduce inches – visit me at www.drsavard.com.
I hope you find this newsletter helpful, and that you share it with your friends.
Marie Savard, MD