How body fat can affect your aging journey

How body fat can affect your aging journey

How does body fat affect your aging journey?

Obesity has become a worldwide health issue for adults, children, and adolescents alike. The New Zealand Health Survey 2019/20 found 1 in 3 adults to be obese[1]. Excess weight increases your risk for diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Although Body Mass Index (BMI) is still widely accepted as the go to method for defining which weight category you fall into, it is common knowledge that this doesn’t necessarily give an indication of whether weight is an issue for your health. For example, BMI does not account for variations in body shape, how weight is distributed across the body or your body fat versus lean muscle ratio. 

Waist to height ratio is thought to be a better indicator of health risk, as this takes weight distribution into account. Central fat obesity, or abdominal fat, can lead to poorer health outcomes and reduced life expectancy[2],

The cause of obesity can be as simple as eating more calories than energy used, although usually it is much more complex and a much wider topic than this blog will cover. The purpose of this blog is to consider some of the lifestyle and dietary factors that influence body fat, and how obesity contributes to the way you age.

How lifestyle and dietary factors can contribute to weight gain

Stress contributes to obesity in several ways. One of the physiological responses to stress is the release of glucose into the blood stream.  This provides you with the energy to flee from a perceived threat. However, modern day stressors such as deadlines, financial pressures and relationship issues do not require you to use this energy to run away[3]

In addition to the body releasing stored glucose into the blood stream, stress causes  the seeking out of calorific, sugary, and salty foods to provide more energy to respond to the stressor. In normal circumstances, a hormone called leptin sends a message to the brain to stop eating when full.  However, when stressed the brain becomes less responsive to leptin, which contributes to overeating during stressful times[4].

If you do not expend this excess energy produced or consumed due to stress, it is stored as adipose tissue, particularly in the abdominal region.  Insulin is the hormone responsible for signalling for cells to store glucose. When blood glucose levels are consistently high, your body must produce more insulin to transport it into the cells. Over time the pancreas becomes tired of pumping out insulin and the cells become resistant to it – this leads to metabolic conditions such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes[5].

Stress can also affect the quality of our sleep, which can then reduce your resilience and contribute to overall stress. Both lack of sleep and excessive sleep have been associated with weight gain and increased BMI. Sleep causes fatigue which promotes sedentary behaviour and reduced exercise.  It increases your appetite and increases the chances of reaching for high carbohydrate and high fat food choices. 

The relationship between obesity and the way you age

Obesity has an impact on the way that your cells age and research attributes this to its symbiotic relationship with the senescent cells.  Senescent cells are “zombie like” cells that have stopped performing their function and dividing in a healthy way, due to cellular damage. This is a natural stage of a cells lifecycle and the immune system is primed to clear these cells from the body.  However, over time, senescent cells can accumulate to a point where the immune system can no longer keep up with clearing them from the system. When senescent cells build up and linger in the body, they secrete inflammatory molecules, and this contributes to development of age-related diseases[6].

Obesity and type 2 diabetes can be caused by the systemic inflammation caused by accumulation of senescent cells. Additionally, these diseases create an environment which increases the levels of senescent cells within the body, and this leads to further age-related health impairments, and the risk of developing other health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and cancer[7]


In summary, obesity can lead to poor health outcomes and reduced life expectancy. Some of the mechanisms that contribute to weight gain and obesity include stress, sleep duration, levels of physical activity and dietary choices. Accumulated senescent cells can lead to obesity and metabolic conditions, and conversely these conditions create an environment that increases the accumulation of senescent cells.

This illustrates the importance of healthy lifestyle and dietary choices.  What can you do to better manage stress and improve your quality of sleep?  How can you incorporate more exercise into your routine and make healthier food choices? Click below for more information on each of these topics and tips on how to make some changes.

How does sleep impact the way you age?

Stress and its effect on the way you age

How exercise influences the way you age

You are what you eat

If you need further support, we recommend that you seek out the support of a health professional.


Suzy Walsh BBA (Hons)., BNat., mNMHNZ is a Registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist




[1] Obesity statistics. (2020, November 19). Ministry of Health NZ.

[2] Engin, A. (2017). The definition and prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Obesity and Lipotoxicity, 1-17. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-48382-5_1

[3] Tomiyama, A.J. (2019). Stress and Obesity. Annu Rev Psychol, 70:703-718. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010418-102936.

[4] Tomiyama, A.J. (2019). Stress and Obesity. Annu Rev Psychol, 70:703-718. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010418-102936.

[5] Tomiyama, A.J. (2019). Stress and Obesity. Annu Rev Psychol, 70:703-718. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010418-102936.

[6] van Deursen J. M. (2014). The role of senescent cells in ageing. Nature, 509(7501), 439–446. doi: 10.1038/nature13193.

[7] Burton, D. G., & Faragher, R. G. (2018). Obesity and type-2 diabetes as inducers of premature cellular senescence and ageing. Biogerontology, 19(6), 447-459. doi: 10.1007/s10522-018-9763-7