Losing weight might be good for more than just your heart. New research indicates it also can improve your memory. According to a study led by John Gunstad, an assistant professor of psychology at Kent State University, weight loss helps increase concentration and overall cognitive ability. Here, a brief guide to the findings:
How did the researchers link the brain to the waistline?
They tested the attention and memory of 150 overweight people. Then, some of the participants in the study underwent gastric-bypass weight-loss surgery. Twelve weeks later, the subjects' mental abilities were tested again, and researchers saw significant changes. "They were able to show improvements moving from the kind of mildly impaired range into the normal range, which clinically... is a pretty meaningful change," says Gunstad.
Where did Gunstad get this idea?
"A growing body of evidence" has linked obesity to cognitive problems, and obesity is also a risk factor for strokes, dementia, and Alzheimer's. Gunstad wondered if shedding extra pounds could reverse the apparent effect, and somehow improve cognitive function.
How much weight do you have to lose to see results?
Gunstad hasn't studied that, but he is "cautiously optimistic" that one would see improvement after losing 20 or 25 pounds. "If you take care of your body," he says, "you're also taking care of your brain."
Gunstad says there are three unanswered questions: What exactly is it about obesity that impairs cognitive functions? What caused the post-surgery improvement? And would natural weight loss produce the same results as the surgery? "If we're able to identify what causes these memory problems in the first place and then changes after surgery to make the memory better, that's the key," says Gunstad.