Skinny Fat & Dementia

With the current emphasis on being thin, it’s not surprising that many people don’t know that thinness alone won’t automatically ensure that you’re healthy. Although obesity is generally recognized as an unhealthy condition that is linked to diseases such as diabetes, impaired cognitive function, neuropathy, and others, research has shown a link between sarcopenic obesity, informally referred to as “skinny fat”, and the onset of dementia in the aging process.

What Is Skinny Fat?

The term “skinny fat” refers to those who, according to the scale, are within healthy weight limits for their age and height but who have a high ratio of fat to muscle. Regardless of a person’s weight, an excess amount of fat has a deleterious effect on the organs and tissues and can contribute to the onset of diseases such as diabetes and dementia. When a high body fat content is combined with a low muscle mass, it’s called sarcopenic obesity, or skinny fat. Sarcopenia refers to the natural process of losing muscle mass as the body ages. The effects of sarcopenic obesity are significantly greater than that of either obesity or sarcopenia alone.

What Criteria Were Used?

In determining the validity of the assessment of sarcopenic obesity, researchers used cognitive performance tests, functional performance tests, and measurements of body composition. The 353 participants were 69 years old, on average, and those who were termed “skinny fat” performed the lowest on the scores. Independently, those who were obese and those who had sarcopenia scored lower than others who had neither of these but those who were skinny fat scored the lowest of all.

Study participants were initially examined during a clinic visit, then were tested using Montreal Cognitive Assessment methods and were asked to identify various animals. Their physical function was tested using grip strength, chair stands, and similar tests, and their body mass index, or BMI, was measured. The results indicated each participant’s spatial orientation, mental acuity and flexibility, working memory, and self control when assessed independently and in conjunction. Although it’s long been known that mental function tends to decline as a natural part of the aging process, as does muscle tone and balance, this is the first study that indicates a deleterious link when the two occur simultaneously.

How Does Sarcopenic Obesity Affect Quality Of Life?

Many aging or elderly people prefer to maintain their independence rather than living with relatives or in a skilled nursing facility. Those who have sarcopenic obesity may be unable to continue their independence due to the decline in their physical ability as well as their increasing level of dementia. Those who experience dementia will need constant supervision and may become frustrated by their lack of independence. As lifespan continues to increase, there will be a significant increase in the need for skilled nursing facilities and similar if steps aren’t taken to prevent the onset of sarcopenic obesity, which is easily prevented but needs to start at an early age.

Is Skinny Fat A Condition Of Only The Elderly?

Although the term sarcopenia refers to the loss of muscle mass that’s related to the aging condition, anyone can be skinny fat. Whenever the BMI is too high, a person can be skinny fat even though the scale may indicate that they’re at what’s sometimes erroneously referred to as the ideal weight for their age and height category.

Lack of muscle tone adversely affects the entire body and its organs which can contribute to both mental and physical sluggishness. The body uses the circulatory system to supply oxygen to the cells. When circulation is poor due to poor physical condition and lack of exercise, the cells lack the oxygen necessary for their proper function and the body suffers as a whole. The immune system is compromised, cells are deprived of nourishment, they’re unable to properly replenish those lost to apoptosis, which is cell death, and the lymphatic system is unable to remove metabolic toxins that have accumulated.

How Can Skinny Fat Be Prevented?

Although many of the aging and elderly population aren’t able to participate in strenuous physical exercise, many passive forms of exercise can help maintain or improve muscle tone, thus decreasing their BMI percentage and improving their muscle to fat ratio. Hatha yoga, Tai chi, and Qigong are excellent passive forms of exercise that also improve mental acuity and thus delay or halt the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other types of cognitive decline. Eastern disciplines such as yoga improve mental focus as well as physical conditioning and can benefit those who are starting to age. By learning mental discipline, all aspects of life can be improved which can enable the elderly or those who are aging to maintain a positive outlook and their mental acuity.

Forms of moderate exercise such as walking can also increase muscle tone and help prevent the onset of sarcopenic obesity. Physical exercise, within the limits of the aging body, can benefit all the systems of the body from the cardiovascular to the alimentary to the lymphatic. Those with limited mobility can benefit from the Eastern disciplines and exercise regimens are available for those who have limited physical mobility.

The best time to start preventing sarcopenic obesity and the onset of dementia is early in life. Establishing lifelong habits of good nutrition, exercise, and mental challenges can contribute to good physical and mental health in later life. Exercise releases endorphins that encourage a positive mental outlook and help regulate sleep, appetite, stress levels, and pain. Exercise also improves blood circulation and encourages the circulation of the lymphatic system. All of the cells in the body are better oxygenated including the brain cells, which results in improved memory and cognitive function. Exercise also encourages the action of the lymphatic system which is responsible for removing all the metabolic waste products that accumulate daily. This is essential in order to maintain a healthy physiology.

Avoid the hazards of dementia and being skinny fat. Eat a healthy diet, engage in physical activity that is age-appropriate, and maintain a healthy weight and BMI.