The link between obesity and various diseases has been well-established. Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are the best recognized diseases that are linked directly to obesity.
But there’s a long list of diseases that are triggered or accelerated by the adverse biological processes caused by obesity. These include many cancers, fatty liver disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
I discuss elsewhere how visceral fat – the type that’s stored in the bellies of most obese people as well as those whose overall weight is considered “normal” (see “Belly Fat – The Enemy Within“) – produces dangerous cytokine proteins that wreak inflammatory havoc on nearby organs.
This helps explain the higher rates of type 2 diabetes (pancreas injury), cardiovascular disease (heart injury), fatty liver disease (liver damage), kidney disease and a host of other diseased bodily processes directly attributable to excess visceral fat in the belly (“see “Obesity, Skinny-Fat & Disease” for more on this).
In short, obesity – including just abdominal obesity in those of otherwise normal (non-obese) weight – accelerates the aging process, rendering those who qualify old before their time. Fortunately, unlike aging, obesity can be reversed – but it requires motivation.
For some people, a better understanding of how obesity and excess belly fat accelerates their aging process may provide that motivation. As the fabulous Mills Brothers once sang, “No one wants to be…Old at 33″.
So let’s look briefly at five ways obesity accelerates aging and leads to higher risk for diseases normally associated with much older adults.
5 Ways Obesity Makes You Old
There are more than five ways that obesity makes you old before your time, but I’ll list just five of the more obvious ones for now.
1. Less Physical Activity – Excess weight puts greater stress on knee joints and accelerates the development of painful osteoarthritis that limits physical activity. This results in a vicious cycle of physical decline that normally occurs in much older adults limited by osteoarthritis associated with advanced years;
2. Less Sleep – Sleep apnea is commonly associated with obesity, as are other forms of sleep deprivation. Like reduced physical activity, this feeds on itself by disturbing one’s hormonal balance that induces further over-eating and poorer sleeping patterns. This deprives the body of the essential restorative powers that sound sleeping patterns produce;
3. Increased Stress – Less sleep leaves us less capable of coping with life’s stresses. This again feeds on itself as stress-related over-eating is common. Stress itself is directly associated with virtually all disease processes, as it is inherently pro-inflammatory and lowers one’s immune resistance to disease;
4. Less Protective Omega-3 Fatty Acids – This and the final way that obesity accelerates the aging of your body and mind have to do with the poor nutritional quality of most diets consumed by obese individuals (there aren’t many obese vegetarians, after all). A recent study demonstrated that even those over age 65 benefit by increasing their intake of fish rich in healthful omega-3 fatty acids. It’s likely that most obese individuals are deficient in these omega-3 oils that were found to add 2.2 years of life to the older adults in this study – meaning they lose out on this life-extending benefit; and
5. Less Protective Vitamin D – Vitamin D at certain levels has been associated with lower risk of many diseases, including cardiovascular diseases (see “Vitamin D – How Much Is Too Much” for more). Not only are the diets of most obese people likely to be deficient in vitamin D, but this essential vitamin is stored in body fat. This means that less of it circulates throughout the bodies of obese individuals, depriving them of its protective benefits.
The Importance of Nutritional Quality
The following video gives a succinct overview of the importance of quality nutrition and physical activity in preventing disease:
This next video explains how obese children of 10-12 years of age have the vascular systems of a 45-year old:
As the following video confirms, there’s also evidence that obesity causes brain shrinkage or atrophy commonly associated with aging, depression and other mental decline. Being depressed further weakens one’s will to lose excess weight, be more physically active – the best treatment for depression – or maintain other healthful lifestyle practices shown to extend one’s longevity.
All of these adverse biological effects of obesity – most of them self-perpetuating in that they compound one another and make it that much more difficult to break the cycle – help to explain the difficulty most people have in losing excess weight permanently and maintaining a healthy body weight. It can be done, however.
There’s no shortage of weight loss advice, of course. Unfortunately, most of it is wedded to the notion of fast weight loss. That’s because they’re catering to our cultural obsession with doing things fast – our need for speed. According to Google, for every person searching online for “how to lose weight slowly”, there are over 1,500 people searching for “how to lose weight fast”.
Yet study after study shows that fast weight loss is more quickly regained – leaving you with a worsened body fat composition (more fat and less bone and muscle) than when you started. This, in turn, leaves you at increased risk for disease than when you started.
So it’s best to lose weight slowly – no more than a pound or two a week. Your chances of keeping it off permanently – at least most of it – are far greater than they are with the latest lose-weight-fast scam even when it works.
The take-home message here? Lose weight gradually, if you need to, in order to grow old gracefully – and not ahead of your time.
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