Shed Pounds, Get Smarter—Science Proves It

If your memory is starting to slip, it's definitely time to lower the number on your scale. Trust us, it's not just your heart that will thank you.

pilipphoto/Shutterstock, ilolab/ShuttertockLosing weight to achieve a healthy BMI has plenty of known benefits, from lowered cholesterol to greatly reduced risk of stroke and heart attack. Still, there is one weight loss advantage you’re probably unaware of: improved memory.

According to a recent study conducted by the Endocrine Society, weight loss in obese women can significantly improve brain function essential to memory tasks. Previous research has shown that obese people suffer impaired episodic memory (the type that allows us to place names to faces); thanks to the latest findings, we now know that the memory damage linked to severe weight gain can be regained.

“Our findings suggest that obesity-associated impairments in memory function are reversible, adding incentive for weight loss,” says study author Andreas Pettersson, MD, a PhD student at Umea University, Umea, Sweden, in Science Daily.

Dr. Pettersson and colleagues assigned 20 overweight and post-menopausal women to six months of healthy dieting. The average age of the participants was 61 years old, and the two diets used were the Paleolithic Diet and the Nordic Nutrition Diet. Before dieting, Dr. Pettersson recorded all the women’s body fat, BMI (their body mass index), and memory abilities.

Episodic memory, in particular, was the focus of the study. This involved testing the subjects’ ability to memorize unknown pairs of faces and names presented on a screen—a process formally titled ‘encoding.’ Later, the participants were shown the facial images along with three letters during functional MRI, and they were instructed to correctly choose the first letter of the name linked to each head shot.

Prior to the study, the women’s average BMI was 32.1—obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or greater. After the six-months of dieting, the average BMI dropped to 29.2, putting them below the obesity cutoff. At this point, participants were also performing notably better on memory tests; MRIs revealed that their brain activity increased in the brain regions that are important for identification and matching of faces. (Find out how to effectively boost your memory with these brain exercises.)

“The altered brain activity after weight loss suggests that the brain becomes more active while storing new memories and therefore needs fewer brain resources to recollect stored information,” Dr. Pettersson said.

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