The well-replicated associations between cognitive ability and body mass index (BMI) may largely reflect confounding by other factors related to family background, according to a new study published April 13thin the open access journal PLOS Medicine by Liam Wright of University College London, UK, and colleagues.
Obesity is a major contributor to the global disease burden and its prevalence is expected to continue rising. Existing studies have found links between cognitive ability and obesity, with a lower cognitive ability in childhood or adolescence associated with a higher BMI or higher rate of obesity in later adulthood.
In the new study, researchers used data on 12,250 siblings from 5,602 households followed from adolescence to age 62 as part of four separate United States youth population cohort studies. By comparing the association between cognitive ability and BMI within families, the team could account for unobserved factors related to family background.
When comparing unrelated individuals in the dataset, the researchers found that moving from the 25th to 75th percentile of adolescent cognitive ability was associated with an estimated 0.61 kg/m2 decrease in BMI (95% CI -0.90 to -0.33) when adjusted for family socioeconomic position. When comparing siblings, however, moving from the 25th to 75th percentile of adolescent cognitive ability was associated with only a 0.06 kg/m2 decrease in BMI (95% CI -0.35 to 0.23).
“The results suggest that existing findings on the link between cognitive ability and BMI are biased by shared family factors,” the authors say. “Given that associations between cognitive ability and other health outcomes have been found using similar observational research designs, sibling data may be useful for assessing potential bias for these health outcomes too.”
Wright adds, “Does higher cognitive ability (intelligence) help one to avoid gaining too much weight? Lots of studies have found an association between the two, but our study suggests that these links may not be causal in nature.”
Reducing caloric intake from added sugars is a Leading Health Indicator in Healthy People 2030, a national public health initiative led by the US Department of Health and Human Services that sets data-driven national objectives to improve health and well-being over the next decade. Although many Americans consume too much sugar, investigators found that only a modest reduction in added sugars intake is needed to reach a population mean of 11.5% of calories from added sugars by 2030. Prioritizing reducing added sugars intake among people not meeting recommendations could help those most at risk for chronic disease related to added sugars consumption. They report their findings in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“Diets high in added sugars are associated with adverse health outcomes such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” said Ellen W. Stowe, PhD, MPH, lead investigator and fellow, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, Oak Ridge, TN, USA. “We wanted to study what kind of reduction in added sugars intake was needed to achieve this Healthy People 2030 target.”
Although the consumption of added sugars has declined in the United States, many Americans still consume too much. The average added sugar consumption of persons two years and older in 2013–2016 was 13.5% of total calories. Less than half the population — only about 35% of children aged two to 19 years and 47% of adults 20 years and older — met the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommendation of less than 10%.
Longevity is the achievement of a long life. We may hope for longevity so that we can experience many years of quality time with loved ones or have time to explore the world. But living to a ripe old age doesn’t necessarily mean healthy or happy longevity if it is burdened by disability or disease. The population of people over age 65 has grown more quickly than other age groups due to longer life spans and declining birth rates, and yet people are living more years in poor health. Therefore, we will explore not just one’s lifespan but healthspan, which promotes more healthy years of life according to Harvard School of Public Health.
What you do today can transform your healthspan or how you age in the future. Although starting early is ideal, it’s never too late to reap benefits.
Five factors for a longer and healthier lifespan
Healthy diet – The prevalence of hypertension (high blood pressure) and dementia increases with age. Eating patterns such as those from the DASH, MIND, and Mediterranean diets can lower the risk of these and other chronic conditions that accompany older ages.
Regular exercise – Regular physical activity lowers the risk of several chronic conditions that increase with age including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, certain cancers, and cognitive decline. Exercise also helps to lower anxiety and blood pressure, and improve sleep quality. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services first recommends to move more and sit less, with some activity better than none. For additional health benefits, they advise a minimum of 150-300 minutes weekly of moderate to vigorous activity, like brisk walking or fast dancing, as well as two days a week of muscle-strengthening exercises. Older adults who are at risk for falls may also wish to include balance training such as tai chi or yoga. See additional physical activity considerations for older adults.
Healthy weight – Determining one’s healthy weight range is unique for each person. Factors to consider include reviewing current health conditions, family history, weight history, and genetically inherited body type. Rather than focusing on scale weight alone, monitoring an increase in harmful visceral “belly fat” and weight change since age 20 may be useful.
Not smoking – Smoking is a strong risk factor for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lung diseases, and earlier death as it promotes chronic inflammation and oxidative stress (a condition that can damage cells and tissues).  Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Quitting greatly reduces the risk of these smoking-related diseases. 
Moderate alcohol – Research finds that moderate drinking, defined as 1 drink daily for women and 2 drinks daily for men, is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, and early death from cardiovascular disease. Low to moderate amounts of alcohol raises levels of “good” cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and prevent small blood clots that can block arteries. However, because alcohol intake—especially heavier drinking—is also associated with risks of addiction, liver disease, and several types of cancer, it is a complex issue that is best discussed with your physician to weigh your personal risk versus benefit.
Excess weight or obesity boosts risk of death by anywhere from 22% to 91%—significantly more than previously believed—while the mortality risk of being slightly underweight has likely been overestimated, according to new CU Boulder research.
The findings, published Feb. 9 in the journal Population Studies, counter prevailing wisdom that excess weight boosts mortality risk only in extreme cases.
The statistical analysis of nearly 18,000 people also shines a light on the pitfalls of using body mass index (BMI) to study health outcomes, providing evidence that the go-to metric can potentially bias findings. After accounting for those biases, it estimates that about 1 in 6 U.S. deaths is related to excess weight or obesity.
“Existing studies have likely underestimated the mortality consequences of living in a country where cheap, unhealthy food has grown increasingly accessible, and sedentary lifestyles have become the norm,” said author Ryan Masters, associate professor of sociology at CU Boulder.
“This study and others are beginning to expose the true toll of this public health crisis.”
Challenging the obesity paradox
While numerous studies show that heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes (which are often associated with being overweight) elevate mortality risk, very few have shown that groups with higher BMIs have higher mortality rates.
People who had higher scores for sleep health — based on regularity, satisfaction, alertness, timing, efficiency and duration — during a 12-month weight loss program were more likely to follow the caloric intake and exercise components of the program in comparison to peers who scored lower for sleep health.
People with better sleep health attended more of the program’s group sessions.
People who reported getting regular, uninterrupted sleep did a better job sticking to their exercise and diet plans while trying to lose weight, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2023. The meeting was held in Boston, February 28-March 3, 2023, and offered the latest science on population-based health and wellness and implications for lifestyle and cardiometabolic health.
“Focusing on obtaining good sleep — seven to nine hours at night with a regular wake time along with waking refreshed and being alert throughout the day — may be an important behavior that helps people stick with their physical activity and dietary modification goals,” said Christopher E. Kline, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of health and human development at the University of Pittsburgh. “A previous study of ours reported that better sleep health was associated with a significantly greater loss of body weight and fat among participants in a year-long, behavioral weight loss program.”
The researchers examined whether good sleep health was related to how well people adhered to the various lifestyle modifications prescribed in a 12-month weight loss program. The weight-loss program included 125 adults (average age of 50 years, 91% female, 81% white) who met criteria for overweight or obesity (body mass index of 27-44) without any medical conditions requiring medical supervision of their diet or physical activity.
I wanted to rerun this item on stair-climbing as a superb alternative to trying to exercise in the sub-zero weather which we have been experiencing in much of the country.
Regular readers know that I have been an avid bicycle rider for years. I logged over 7000 miles in the year just ended. And, I have not stopped riding. I have, however, begun a new exercise, for me – climbing stairs.
Although this person is walking down the stairs, I don’t recommend it. You can develop knee problems among others.
How come? Well, the only drawback to cycling I know of is that it is not weight-bearing. So, while the aerobic activity benefits my cardiovascular system greatly, I get no benefits for my skeletal system. I need both and I just can’t get into weight workouts.
An additional benefit of stair climbing over bike riding is that you can do it indoors so the weather conditions do not present a problem. Having just suffered through historic cold weather with much of the country, this is particularly relevant now. While current temps here in Chicago range in the mid 30’s, there is still a lot of snow, ice and slush around that makes for dangerous biking conditions.
So, what about climbing stairs? It burns more calories than running and doesn’t beat up your legs as much as running does. RunSociety says, “When you stair climb for exercise, you burn twice the fat in half the time than if you run and three times more than walking. An intense stair-climbing exercise session will produce more aerobic benefits in a shorter amount of time than running or walking. One hour of stair climbing will burn approximately 1000 calories.”
Nonetheless, you can climb at your own pace and still get a good workout.
A New York Times article by Dr. Harvey Simon on the heath sciences technology faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founding editor of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch, wrote, “What’s so special about climbing stairs? Researchers in Canada answered the question by monitoring 17 healthy male volunteers with an average age of 64 while they walked on the level, lifted weights or climbed stairs. Stair climbing was the most demanding. It was twice as taxing as brisk walking on the level and 50 percent harder than walking up a steep incline or lifting weights. And peak exertion was attained much faster climbing stairs than walking, which is why nearly everyone huffs and puffs going up stairs, at least until their “second wind” kicks in after a few flights.” Continue reading →
In the 20 years since Barbara Corkey, PhD, was named Editor in Chief of the journal Obesity, obesity among adults has risen significantly. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that one third of U.S. adults 20 years of age and older have obesity. Obesity continues to be a common, serious and costly disease.
In an editorial in Obesity, Corkey discusses the many different theories explaining why obesity continues to increase despite best efforts at controlling weight gain in this environment, including increased availability and marketing of high-calorie and high-glycemic-index foods and drinks, larger food portions, leisure time physical activities being replaced with sedentary activities such as watching television and use of electronic devices, inadequate sleep, and the use of medications that increase weight.
According to Corkey, all of these purported explanations assume an environmental cause that is detrimental to the organism involved, (humans). “However, if we use the principle of symbiosis and Darwin’s theory of evolution, perhaps we can understand obesity prevalence as an interim stage in the evolution of man reacting to his environment in order to gain long-term survival and ultimate longevity,” says corresponding author Corkey, professor emeritus of medicine and biochemistry at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine.
Humans have developed a method to feed the billions of people on the planet, by developing processed foods with preservatives and other chemicals that can make food last longer and can be made cheaply to increase calorie density in small packages. Corkey points out that those who develop obesity store body fat in response to excess calories. “Therefore the cause of obesity has as much to do as the human reaction to overfeeding as it does the production of foods that are being overfed,” she states.
Corkey notes that key developments in the obesity/diabetes field include bariatric surgery as well as multiple agents (drugs) with different mechanisms of action to treat obesity and prevent weight regain. “Novel drug combinations are beginning to close the gap with bariatric surgery and appear to be very powerful new tools to treat obesity as a disease.”
Corkey believes recognition of obesity as a disease and earlier diagnosis of diabetes and other consequences of obesity will support early and more effective treatment and prevention. “Importantly, disease recognition will help to support insurance coverage of effective obesity treatments,” she adds.
Lastly, Corkey examines culinary medicine as an emerging evidence-based field that brings together nutrition and culinary knowledge and skills to assist patients in maintaining health and preventing and treating food-related disease by choosing high-quality, healthy food in conjunction with appropriate medical care. “Culinary medicine has the advantage of being an intervention that can be implemented at the earliest time point in the development of obesity with no negative side effects,” says Corkey.
Eating late increases hunger, decreases calories burned, and changes fat tissue
Obesity afflicts approximately 42 percent of the U.S. adult population and contributes to the onset of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and other conditions. While popular healthy diet mantras advise against midnight snacking, few studies have comprehensively investigated the simultaneous effects of late eating on the three main players in body weight regulation and thus obesity risk: regulation of calorie intake, the number of calories you burn, and molecular changes in fat tissue. A new study by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, found that when we eat significantly impacts our energy expenditure, appetite, and molecular pathways in adipose tissue. Their results are published in Cell Metabolism.
“We wanted to test the mechanisms that may explain why late eating increases obesity risk,” explained senior author Frank A. J. L. Scheer, PhD, Director of the Medical Chronobiology Program in the Brigham’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders. “Previous research by us and others had shown that late eating is associated with increased obesity risk, increased body fat, and impaired weight loss success. We wanted to understand why.”
I am rerunning this post from 2015 because I know that a lot of bike riders are just now beginning to ride again and I consider these two stretches to be superb for cyclists. I hope you agree.
I ride my bicycle virtually every day here in Chicago. Last year I averaged just over 17 miles per day for all 365 days for a total of 6350 miles for the year.
As you can imagine in a four season city like Chicago, I am not always able to ride at all, so I end up with some longer rides to compensate.
As a senior citizen riding the bike every day can sometimes stiffen up my leg muscles. I have found two wonderful stretches that do a super job of rejuvenating my legs on long rides. I usually do them after about ten miles so the muscles are warmed up. Every time I do them, I can always feel the energy flow back into my legs when I finish.
I have pictures of each stretch, but I want to explain how I do them as that makes the difference. I did yoga for years and when I stretch, I always do diaphragmatic breathing which sends lots of oxygen-rich cells down to the aching muscles. For the first bent-knee, extended leg stretch, please do it as follows. The picture in this case isn’t perfect. Try to create a straight line from the bottom of your stretched out leg to the top of your head. Don’t bend your body and lay your head down as the cyclist in the photo is doing. With your bent leg, make sure that the knee is perpendicular to the ground. That way you have all straight lines and right angles. Once you are in the stretch breathe in through the nose for a count to five, hold it, then release it through your mouth for a count of five. Do this four or five times and then release the position gently. Assume the same position only with the legs reversed. If the right leg was stretched, now it will be the bent one. Repeat the breathing. Continue reading →
In view of Valentine’s Day tomorrow and tons of chocolate being consumed in honor of it, I thought it might be useful to get a taste of chocolate’s impact on our health.
Medical News Today says, “Throughout the years, chocolate has been on the end of a lot of bad press because of its fat content, and its consumption has been associated with acne, obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes.
“However, ‘the recent discovery of biologically active phenolic compounds in cocoa has changed this perception and stimulated research on its effects in aging, oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation, and atherosclerosis. Today, chocolate is lauded for its tremendous antioxidant potential.’ The potential benefits of eating chocolate may include:
▪ lowering cholesterol levels
▪ preventing cognitive decline
▪ reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems. Continue reading →
I am resending this on the blog as my Christmas present to you. My girlfriend gave me a Yoda hoodie for Christmas with the quote – “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
Those were Yoda’s words to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke was stuck, unsuccessful and becoming frustrated with his failure. Luke precipitated that fabulous quote when he said, “Okay, I’ll give it a try.”
I always liked Yoda’s words. There seemed to be a deep meaning to them. How can you do something without trying? I never quite got what it was, but I always sensed there was a profound meaning in there some place. I don’t know how many years ago I heard that quote. It was in a movie theater when that particular installment of the Star Wars Trilogy was showing. Surely more than 10 years have gone by, maybe 20. Anyway, I finally got it.
I was riding my bicycle yesterday afternoon and just kind of playing with the idea of trying. What does it mean to try? That happens a lot when I am riding. I have told people that riding is my meditation. It just happens to burn calories. I don’t ride the bike for that, though. I do it because I love riding. Everything else is just gravy.
Regular readers know that I ride year ’round here in Chicago. Through November, we barely cracked 40 degrees F which didn’t call for much extra prep beyond gloves and ear covering. Come December, however, with the advent of the 30s and below a whole new dimension of cycling wear opens up. Whether you ride a bike or not, I think you will find some useful info here.
From the Toronto Star
A recent Wall Street Journal had a cleverly written item on Your Outdoor Sports Survival Guide, by Jason Gay. He aptly describes “the maniacal joy of Survival Season,” and observes “Nobody looks suave playing sports in the freezing cold. If you are doing it correctly, you look a little unhinged and suspicious. Are you going to play golf…or rob the Bank of Alaska?” Continue reading →
Having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or obesity from childhood through middle age were linked to poorer brain function by middle age.
These cardiovascular risk factors were linked with low memory, learning, visual processing, attention span, and reaction and movement time.
Strategies to prevent heart disease and stroke should begin in childhood to promote better brain health by middle age.
Managing weight, blood pressure and cholesterol in children may help protect brain function in later life, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association’s flagship journal Circulation. This is the first study to highlight that cardiovascular risk factors accumulated from childhood through mid-life may influence poor cognitive performance at midlife.
Previous research has indicated that nearly 1 in 5 people older than 60 have at least mild loss of brain function. Cognitive deficits are known to be linked with cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity and poor diet, as well as depression and low education level.
Many diseases that cause neurological deficits, such as Alzheimer’s, have a long preclinical phase before noticeable symptoms begin, so finding links between childhood obesity and other cardiovascular risk factors is important for cognitive health. The researchers noted that there are currently no cures for major causes of dementia, so it is important to learn how early in life cardiovascular risk factors may affect the brain.
“We can use these results to turn the focus of brain health from old age and midlife to people in younger age groups,” said the study’s first author Juuso O. Hakala, M.D., a Ph.D. student at the Research Centre of Applied and Prevention Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Turku, in Turku, Finland. ”Our results show active monitoring and prevention of heart disease and stroke risk factors, beginning from early childhood, can also matter greatly when it comes to brain health. Children who have adverse cardiovascular risk factors might benefit from early intervention and lifestyle modifications.”
The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study is a national, longitudinal study on cardiovascular risk from childhood to adulthood in Finland. Researchers followed the participants’ cardiovascular risk factor profiles for 31 years from childhood to adulthood. Baseline clinical examinations were conducted in 1980 on approximately 3,600 randomly selected boys and girls, ranging in ages from 3 to 18, all of whom were white. More than 2,000 of the participants, ranging in ages from 34 to 49, underwent a computerized cognitive function test in 2011. The test measured four different cognitive domains: episodic memory and associative learning; short-term working memory; reaction and movement time; and visual processing and sustained attention.
Systolic blood pressure, total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, as well as body mass index, from childhood to midlife are associated with brain function in middle age.
Consistently high systolic blood pressure or high blood total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were linked to worse memory and learning by midlife when compared with lower measures.
Obesity from childhood to adulthood was associated with lower visual information processing speed and maintaining attention.
Having all three cardiovascular risk factors was linked to poorer memory and associative learning, worse visual processing, decreased attention span, and slower reaction and movement time.
These results are from observational findings, so more studies are needed to learn whether there are specific ages in childhood and/or adolescence when cardiovascular risk factors are particularly important to brain health in adulthood. Study limitations include that a definite cause-and-effect link between cardiovascular risk factors and cognitive performance cannot be determined in this type of population-based study; cognition was measured at a single point in time; and because all study participants are white, the results may not be generalizable to people from other racial or ethnic groups.
A receptor that helps conserve energy when food is scarce may be the key to a safer approach to treating diet-induced obesity, research led by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research has revealed.
In a study using experimental models and fat tissue biopsies from obese individuals, the team revealed that blocking a specific receptor of the molecule neuropeptide Y (NPY), which helps our body regulate its heat production, could increase fat metabolism and prevent weight gain.
“The Y1 receptor acts as a ‘brake’ for heat generation in the body. In our study, we found that blocking this receptor in fat tissues transformed the ‘energy-storing’ fat into ‘energy-burning’ fat, which switched on heat production and reduced weight gain,” says Dr Yan-Chuan Shi, Leader of the Neuroendocrinology Group at Garvan and co-senior author of the paper published in Nature Communications.
“Most of the current medications used to treat obesity target the brain to suppress appetite and can have severe side effects that limit their use. Our study reveals an alternative approach that targets the fat tissues directly, which may potentially be a safer way to prevent and treat obesity.”
A review and analysis published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that eating walnuts could improve blood lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides) without causing weight gain or increasing blood pressure.
Feeling blue on Friday the 13th? Perhaps you are triscadecaphobic, which is to say, fearful of Friday the 13th.
The publication Environmental Nutrition offers the following 5 foods that are super nutritious and might bring you good luck at least in terms of your general health.
Amazing avocados, is their first offering. “Ounce for ounce, they contain more blood-pressure lowering potassium than bananas. Avocados are rich in good-for-you monounsaturated fats, and cholesterole-lowering beta-sitosterol and cancer-protective glutathione, along with Vitamin E, folate, vitamin B6 and fiber.”
Brain-boosting blueberries come in second. “These little blue marvels are the antioxidant leaders, plump and nearly 4 grams of fiber per cup and a good dose of vitamin C. They also have cancer-protective ellagic acid, and may boost your brain health and vision.”
Anti-cancer Brazil nuts come in third. “This hearty tree nut is a ‘trigger food’ that may cause cancer cells to self-destruct. It’s a super source of selenium, a promising anti-cancer trace mineral that also promotes DNA repair and boosts immunity. Just two medium nuts contain enough selenium to perhaps reduce the incidence of prostate, colon and lung cancers.”
Good old Broccoli is number four. “Here’s an easy way to get two cancer-blockers that modify natural estrogens into less damaging forms and increase the activity of enzymes that fight carcinogens. Aim for three servings a week of broccoli or its cruciferous cousins.”
Number five is Butternut Squash. “This tasty fruit (yes, fruit) is an exceptional source of beta-carotene, the antiooxidant tyour body converts to vitamin A. But it’s also an overlooked source of bone-building calcium.”
So, look on the bright side and focus on the great nutritional benefits you can derive from these five super foods and forget about the fact that today is Friday the 13th. Just don’t walk under any ladders.