Why being “skinny fat” may be worse than being obese

Are you skinny fat?

Someone who looks skinny but really has low muscle mass and high body fat?

It’s not hard to tell if you are…

If you’ve always been naturally thin but you never exercise, there’s a good chance you’re skinny fat.

If you look thin in clothes, but not so much in a bathing suit, there’s a good chance you’re skinny fat too.

Now, you hear a lot about how obesity is bad for your health, because it increases your risk of diseases, shortens your lifespan and so on. But being skinny fat isn’t much better.


Well, being skinny fat means you have too much fat and too little muscle mass. Either one of these conditions on their own has a negative impact on your health. But together? They’re a recipe for disaster… especially when it comes to maintaining that beautiful, youthful brain of yours.

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Is being skinny fat stealing your smarts?

A recent study from researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s Comprehensive Center for Brain Health found that being skinny fat is bad for your brain.

The study included data from 353 people who were an average age of 69. Researchers looked at the cognitive abilities of people who were skinny fat, and guess what?

Skinny fat people performed worse on cognitive tests than people with obesity or sarcopenia (low muscle mass) alone. Why?

Well, previous research shows that low muscle mass is tied to several cognitive impairments, including worse memory, speed and executive function (a set of mental skills that help you accomplish tasks).

And extra body fat has been tied to worse executive function too. So, together, these two conditions (low muscle mass and extra body fat) set you up for cognitive decline.

Stop being skinny fat

If you suspect that you’re skinny fat, there’s no better time to get your muscle mass up and your fat mass down.  After all, it’s about more than looking good in a bathing suit. It’s about keeping your brain healthy so you can keep caring for yourself and enjoying your life as you age.

But you may be wondering… what’s the best way to battle sarcopenia and excess body fat simultaneously? The answer’s easy… resistance training!

Resistance training not only prevents the loss of muscle mass that typically happens with age, it can even reverse it. Plus, it lowers body fat.

In case you don’t know, resistance training is any type of exercise that builds muscle through external resistance. So, that includes lifting weights, using those machines in the gym or doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups or squats.

Diet makes a difference too. You won’t lose body fat if you’re snacking on cookies and cupcakes every evening. Stick to healthy proteins, veggies, fruits and whole grains. Protein is especially important if you want to build muscle mass since it provides the amino acids that are the building blocks of your muscles.

So, exercise and eat well. It’s the only surefire way to stop being skinny fat and keep your cognitive health intact.

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.