Eat and Be Smarter

If you want to be smarter, lose the belly fat

 A new study in the Annals of Neurology, shows that being obese is associated with a smaller brain size in otherwise healthy middle-aged adults. Researchers at Boston University measured obesity indicators such as body mass index (BMI = height/weight^2), waist size and belly fat (measured with CT scan of the abdomen) in "healthy" people and then measured the size of their brains on MRI scans.

They found that as body fat increased the size of the brain decreased, the strongest association was with abdominal/belly fat. Early dementia and Alzheimer's disease are associated with decreased brain size.

Researchers are investigating further to understand this association but there are many lifestyle clues. Fat cells produce substances that cause inflammation, chronic brain inflammation decreases its size. Inflammation inside arteries causes abscess-like cholesterol plaques that clog them and reduce blood flow to the whole body including the brain. Less blood flow to the brain reduces the available oxygen and nutrients needed for optimal brain function. Chronic stress increases the secretion of cortisol, a hormone that redistributes fat to the abdomen, and constricts arteries that carry blood to the brain. Lack of exercise decreases blood flow, brain size and function.

Smart Lifestyle Changes

Three lifestyle changes that can make you smarter are: Eating a plant based diet, managing stress effectively and getting regular exercise. Plant-based diets with no cholesterol are the only way to permanently unclog arteries. Learning to manage stress not only improves memory and brain function but also leads to a more satisfying life. Arobeic exercise improves cardiovascular function and increases brain size. Walking for 30 minutes/day, 6 days a week has been documented to increase the production of new brain cells and increase brain size of older adults in less than 3 months. The areas of the brain that grow most with lifestyle changes are the areas that normally shrink with age and are responsible for memory, learning and intellectual function.


Walking 30 minutes/day, 6 days a week will increase the production of new brain cells and increase brain size of older adults in less than 3 months



Visceral fat is associated with lower brain volume in healthy middle-aged adults,


Dr. Rooke is the Medical Director of Atlanta Lifestyle Medicine. She is a board certified Preventive Medicine Specialist. Atlanta Lifestyle Medicine offers a comprehensive lifestyle intervention program that includes optimal nutrition, stress management,exercise and  life skills training. 

Debette, S.,, Ann Neuro, May 2010

Exercise effects on cognitive and neural plasticity in older adults, Erickson, K, Kramer, A., Br J Sports Medicine, October 2008.

Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behavior and cognition

Lupien, S. et. al. Psychoneuroendocrinology June 2009

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