What’s Worse For Your Brain If You Are Over 40 – Working Too Hard Or Eating Too Much?

Two new scientific studies have revealed evidence that shows if you are over 40, overweight and work too hard, you could be damaging your brain function.

The first study, conducted by the University of Cambridge showed that the brains of overweight people had the same amount of white matter in their brain as those ten years older than them. White matter naturally decreases in your brain as you get older, Essentially your ‘brain shrinks’ for those not from a scientific background!

For decades numerous scientific studies have illustrated how being overweight has a negative effect on your heart capacity and can dramatically effect your chances potential for heart disease, diabetes or liver disease. This study now suggests that being overweight can have a negative effect on the aging of your brain, specifically if you are middle-aged.

The scientists reviewed the amount of white matter in 527 individuals between the ages of 20 and 87. They determined if someone was lean or overweight based on their BMIs and separated the data into the two categories.

Their findings showed that the brains of the overweight people were about ten years older than those of their more slender colleagues in the study. If these findings are confirmed with further research then it may prove how obesity directly effects the aging of the brain.

Admittedly the studies are not conclusive. The researchers found that despite the reduction in white matter, they did not reveal any reduction in cognitive abilities, based on reviewing a standard IQ test taken by the participants in the study.

They also found that the white matter reduction was only discovered in middle aged participants, not those of the younger individuals. The greatest difference in white matter volume between those overweight participants and those of a leaner build was most noticeable at around the age of 40.

Senior author Professor Paul Fletcher, from the Department of Psychiatry, adds: “We’re living in an aging population, with increasing levels of obesity, so it’s essential that we establish how these two factors might interact, since the consequences for health are potentially serious.

“The fact that we only saw these differences from middle-age onwards raises the possibility that we may be particularly vulnerable at this age. It will also be important to find out whether these changes could be reversible with weight loss, which may well be the case.”

Professor Sadaf Farooqi, a co-author of the study said; “We don’t yet know the implications of these changes in brain structure. Clearly this must be a starting point for us to explore in more depth the effects of weight, diet and exercise on the brain and memory.”

However the work done by the Cambridge scientists is not the only recent study that has found behaviors linked to negative brain function. Researchers at the University of Melbourne tested the brains of 3,000 Australian men and 3,5000 women over the age of 40 in three categories: a reading test, a memory score test and a perceptive ability test.

They discovered that those individuals who worked 20-25 hours a week feared best in all the tests.

They found that this was the ideal amount of working time to ensure most productivity. This was the level at which optimum cognitive levels were displayed. Interestingly they also discovered that those working less than 25 hours a week displayed lesser cognitive levels.

Researcher Colin McKenzie told the Sydney Morning Herald; “For cognitive functioning, working far too much is worse than not working at all. In the beginning work stimulates the brain cells. The stress associated with work physically and psychologically kicks in at some point and that affects the gains you get from working.”

The research did only look at the link between working hours and performance. The scientists didn’t investigate what other factors could contribute to the reduction in cognitive skills, so they can’t conclusively say that it was overwork that was the sole cause.

But the level of cognitive decline associated with long hours was the same in both men and women, and only the amount of time worked seem to explain the difference in test performance across the sample size.

The researchers came to the conclusion that the reason for the decline was twofold; stress and lack of sleep.

For decades we have known that a lack of sleep impacts our cognitive function, due to the production of hormones. Lack of sleep has a similar effect, with research showing that the white matter inside your brain can can be effected following a night of no sleep.