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Having less muscle and more fat linked to cognitive decline

According to a new study, individuals who are “skinny fat,” which refers to having too much fat and not enough muscle, are more prone to cognitive decline. The loss of muscle tissue with age, or sarcopenia, and obesity both have a negative impact on health and cognitive function, and there is an even higher threat when the two conditions are coinciding.

The investigation, which was led by researchers at Florida Atlantic University, was based on data from a series of aging and memory studies which involved over 350 participants that had an average age of 69.

The team analyzed the relationship of skinny fat and sarcopenic obesity with performance on various cognition tests. The researchers also assessed body composition and incorporated functioning tests such as grip strength.

The study revealed that sarcopenic obesity or skinny fat was associated with the lowest cognitive performance, followed by sarcopenia alone and then obesity alone. In addition, obesity and sarcopenia were associated with inferior executive function such as self-control, orientation, and working memory.

The study’s senior author, Dr. James E. Galvin, is one of the most prominent neuroscientists in the country.

“Sarcopenia has been linked to global cognitive impairment and dysfunction in specific cognitive skills including memory, speed, and executive functions,” said Dr. Galvin.

“Understanding the mechanisms through which this syndrome may affect cognition is important as it may inform efforts to prevent cognitive decline in later life by targeting at-risk groups with an imbalance between lean and fat mass. They may benefit from programs addressing loss of cognitive function by maintaining and improving strength and preventing obesity.”

While it is not yet clear what underlies the association between obesity and cognitive dysfunction, some research suggests that sedentary behavior, inflammation, and vascular damage are some of the potential drivers of this connection. Sarcopenia has been linked to impaired conflict resolution and selective attention.

“Sarcopenia either alone or in the presence of obesity, can be used in clinical practice to estimate potential risk of cognitive impairment,” said study co-author Dr.Magdalena I. Tolea. “Testing grip strength by dynamometry can be easily administered within the time constraints of a clinic visit, and body mass index is usually collected as part of annual wellness visits.”

The research is published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Florida Atlantic University

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