December 10th, 2009
01:48 PM ET

Is there a link between obesity and Alzheimer's?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Cyrus in Pittsburgh:

“Can obesity be linked to Alzheimer's disease? And can physical activity help ward off the disease?”


There are two important questions here. The quick answer, of course, is yes. But obesity, as you might imagine, is just one part of the whole puzzle. First, most things that are bad for your heart are often bad for your brain as well. That’s one way to think about it. You see, it's all about blood flow. So what impedes or affects blood flow to the heart is generally going to cause the same in the brain. Elevated blood pressure, high triglycerides, and high cholesterol all affect blood flow and all increase your chances of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life.

The good news, to the second part of your question, is we know a lot about what we can do to prevent or delay the onset of this disease. Being physically active has been shown to improve mental function and to keep your brain healthier as you age. It's also essential for maintaining good blood flow and encouraging the growth of new brain cells. Studies show exercise that raises your heart rate for a minimum of 30 minutes several times a week seems to be the key. And exercise does so much more: It significantly reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes. So stay active to keep your body and brain healthy for those later years.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.