Obesity may have harmful effects on the brain, and exercise may counteract many of those negative effects, according to sophisticated new neurological experiments with mice, even when the animals do not lose much weight. While it’s impossible to know if human brains respond in precisely the same way to fat and physical activity, the findings offer one more reason to get out and exercise.
It’s been known for some time that obesity can alter cognition in animals. Past experiments with lab rodents, for instance, have shown that obese animals display poor memory and learning skills compared to their normal-weight peers. They don’t recognize familiar objects or recall the location of the exit in mazes that they’ve negotiated multiple times.
But scientists hadn’t understood how excess weight affects the brain. Fat cells, they knew, manufacture and release substances into the bloodstream that flow to other parts of the body, including the heart and muscles. There, these substances jump-start biochemical processes that produce severe inflammation and other conditions that can lead to poor health.
Many thought the brain, though, should be insulated from those harmful effects. It contains no fat cells and sits behind the protective blood-brain barrier that usually blocks the entry of undesirable molecules.
However, recent disquieting studies in animals indicate that obesity weakens that barrier, leaving it leaky and permeable. In obese animals, substances released by fat cells can ooze past the barrier and into the brain.
According to experts and research, spot-burning fat is impossible. Here's what that means for your workouts.
How often do you encounter promises like “Whittle your waist!” or “Trim your thighs!” or “Flatten your belly!” in magazines and marketing? Probably pretty often.
Which is why the fitness myth is so pervasive, and why it’s worth busting again:
“There’s no evidence that working a muscle inspires your body to mobilize the fat next to that muscle group,” says Refine Method founder and exercise brainiac Brynn Jinnett, who went to Harvard and then studied kinesiology and the movement patterns of professional athletes. “You can’t decide where the weight is going to come off first,” she says. (Though it’s a bummer.)
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