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One Major Side Effect of Obesity, Says Study

Your BMI may impact your brain, researchers claim.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Obesity, the second leading cause of preventable death in the country, impacts over 42 percent of American adults in the United States—and the chronic disease is becoming increasingly prevalent. There are a number of side effects of having a dangerously inflated BMI, including organ system damage leading to different issues such as diabetes, joint disease, gastroesophageal reflux, and being more susceptible to disease and viruses, such as COVID-19. Now a recent study has identified another major side effect of obesity. Read on to find out what it is and about science-backed steps you can take to prevent obesity. And to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.

1

Being Obese Can Restrict Blood Flow to Your Brain

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Scientists at The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin have found that being overweight or obese can significantly reduce blood flow to the brain, a term called "cerebral hypoperfusion," which is considered an early mechanism in vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers investigated three separate measures of obesity in adults over 50—body mass index (BMI), waist-to-hip ratio and waist circumference, and physical activity. Using MRI scanning they measured brain blood flow, identifying the relationship between obesity and increased blood flow. They note that brain blood flow usually declines with age. However, the negative influence that obesity has on brain blood flow is greater than that of age.

RELATED: 5 Reasons You May Be Obese, Say Experts

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"Consistent, Healthy Blood Supply to the Brain is Critical"

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"Consistent, healthy blood supply to the brain is critical, as it ensures that the brain is provided with enough oxygen and nutrients to function correctly. If brain blood flow becomes impaired, it can lead to serious health issues as we age, such as increasing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Silvin Knight, Research Fellow at TILDA and lead author, explained in a press release.

"We know that obesity can predispose a person to age-related conditions, illness, and disease, and even reduce life expectancy by up to 6 years in men and 7 years in women, after the age of forty. Our study reveals clear associations between obesity and reduced blood supply to the brain in an older population. The study also shows the importance of being physically active for older overweight or obese individuals, as this may help to protect against reduced brain blood flow and the poor health outcomes that can arise from this."

Like many, you may be carrying around a few more pounds than you'd prefer right now, but there are some easy, science-backed steps you can take to prevent obesity. Read on to find out more.

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How to Prevent Obesity: Exercise

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Scientists at TILDA did identify one thing that can cancel out the negative effects: exercise. Increased physical activity was shown to improve or even negate the blood flow reduction. The researchers suggest getting at least 1.5 to two hours of moderate activity throughout the day that promote harder than normal breathing—like cycling or speed walking. 

RELATED: Unhealthiest Habits to Quit Now, Say Experts

4

How to Prevent Obesity: Watch Out For the Slow Creep

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"One of the best ways to stop obesity is to prevent slow, creeping weight gain that can occur over an extended period," says Kirsten Davidson, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for research at Boston College. "We are all vulnerable to this if we are not vigilant. In today's environment, it is easy to consume 100 to 200 calories beyond what your body needs on a daily basis—this could be two cookies, for example—but over an extended period, this leads to weight gain."

Davidson's advice: Weigh yourself daily, or at least once a week. Track that information over time. "If your weight is on an upward trajectory, then you need to make lifestyle changes," she says. Davidson adds one caveat: Although that strategy works well for many people, it may not work for those who have an emotional relationship to food and weight. Checking in with a healthcare provider may be needed.

RELATED: Major Sign You May Have Alzheimer's, Says Study

5

How to Prevent Obesity: Don't Let Your Body Feel Deprived

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As discussed in Better, experts have seen the frustration of many dieters who pound away hours on a treadmill and endure low-calorie diets to little or no effect. That's because the body seems able to suss out when it's being deprived, so it downshifts metabolism to keep things stable. The net effect: You don't lose weight, and may even gain more. 

"There is evidence that metabolism changes as part of an evolutionary adaptation to starvation and the body sensing the reduction in calories," says Manson. "You don't want the body to feel deprived, because it is going to make changes in metabolism that will sabotage your efforts to control your weight."

The hack: Satisfy your body, don't punish it. Eat foods "that lead to satiety, that lead to emotional well-being and that have the nutrition your body needs," says Manson. To find out what some of those foods are, read on.

RELATED: Everyday Habits That Age Your Body, Say Experts

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Eat Nutritious, Satiating Food

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"A high-quality eating plan is something like the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil, while being low in red meat, processed meats and processed foods," says Manson.

The key: Focus on nutritious foods that will fill you up, not high-calorie processed foods that won't. For example, when snacking, reach for a handful of nuts instead of chips. Nuts are nutrient-dense and rich in good fats that will satiate you, not leave you feeling hungry or queasy. "It leads to satisfaction," says Manson. "As opposed to, after you've had three donuts, you might feel really sick."

RELATED: 5 Ways To Stay Young Forever, Say Experts

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Snack on These Fruits And Vegetables

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Snacking on non-starchy vegetables and fruits that are low in fructose can be very satisfying, while preventing the blood sugar spikes and crashes that starches and sugars can stoke. Manson suggests brussels sprouts or broccoli for a side dish, or for snacking, putting together a bag of mixed vegetables with hummus or a yogurt-based dip. Lower-fructose fruits include berries, apples, pears and strawberries. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.