Excess Belly Fat Could Be Negatively Affecting Your Fluid Intelligence

Our "fluid intelligence" allows us to solve novel reasoning problems. It's a type of intelligence involving short-term memory and the ability to think quickly, logically and abstractly to solve problems facing us in new and unique situations.

It's basically quick thinking. There's also a correlation between fluid intellegence and a number of important skills such as comprehension, problem solving, and learning. Fluid intelligence, however, peaks at around age 20 and then gradually declines.

Surprisingly, the decline in fluid intelligence among men gives rise to those bulging "love handles," or belly fat, hard as this is to comprehend. Studies have shown muscle loss and the accumulation of body fat around the abdomen are associated with a decline in fluid intelligence.

This increase in visceral fat often begins in middle age and continues into old age. Visceral fat is excess body fat stored within the abdominal adipose tissue. This stored fat is sometimes referred to as the active fat. Visceral fat stores excess energy, produce hormones and other inflammatory substances that guard against the invading pathogen or other foreign substances. But the flip side are those unsightly love handles.

A new study from Iowa State University, published in the November 2019 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, found muscle loss and the accumulation of body fat around the abdomen are associated with a decline in fluid intelligence.

This somewhat strange finding suggests the possibility lifestyle factors, such as the type of diet and the type and amount of exercise through the years to maintain more lean muscle, might help prevent or delay this type of decline.

The data they obtained included measurements of lean muscle, abdominal fat and subcutaneous fat from more than 4,000 middle-to- older-aged men and women. Researchers compared this data to reported changes in fluid intelligence over a six-year period.

They found middle-aged people with higher measures of abdominal fat scored worse on measures of fluid intelligence as the years passed. For women, the association might be due to changes in immunity that resulted from excess abdominal fat. Among men, the immune system didn't appear to be involved. Future studies should explain these differences and lead to different treatments for men and women.

However, there are steps we can take to help reduce abdominal fat and maintain lean muscle mass as we age. These steps will protect our physical and mental well-being as we grow older. The two most generally recommended lifestyle approaches are maintaining or increasing our levels of aerobic exercise, such as walking more each day, and following a Mediterranean diet, which is high in fiber from whole grains, vegetables and other plant foods while removing highly-processed foods.

intelligence What area of intelligence are you the strongest in? Photo Courtesy of Funders and Founders/Marc Vital

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