A recent epidemiological study concluded that be the year 2050 the number of overweight or obese Americans would increase to above fifty percent. This statistic is alarming because obesity produces chronic, low-grade, body-wide inflammation, insulin resistance and many of the same metabolic conditions that underlie the aging process itself. However, you do not have to be obese in order to suffer from the consequences of fat. Even skinny older people with relatively more visceral fat than subcutaneous fat are at increased risk for diabetes and mortality.
Obesity, especially excessive belly fat, increases the risk of numerous diseases, including diabetes, atherosclerosis and cancer. In addition, the cytokines associated with the widespread inflammation related to excessive belly fat directly impair cognitive function. Many laboratories around the world, including my own, have documented the molecular mechanisms that explain how excessive body fat impairs brain function. Worse, the effect of excessive belly fat ultimately increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
What would happen if these harmful fats cells were simply removed? Exercise can shrink fat cells but only liposuction can remove them from the body. A group of scientists at the Medical College of Georgia investigated this novel question by conducting three very clever experiments on obese and normal weight mice (Journal of Neuroscience, 2014). First, a group of obese mice were forced to exercise on a treadmill. Unlike the millions of Americans who own treadmills, these mice had no choice but to run. As expected, the daily treadmill exercising reduced belly fat, reduced the level of inflammation in their body, and significantly restructured how their brains’ function at the cellular level leading to greatly improved memory.