Shedding those extra pounds may not only improve your health and appearance, it may also boost your ability to respond to memory training, new research suggests. Scientists followed about 2,800 older adults with an average age of 74 for 10 years, recording the body mass index (BMI) of participants and comparing the performance on cognitive tests of participants who received memory training.

The researchers found that memory training was only one-third as beneficial for participants who were obese as it was for those who were normal weight. Although the reason for this difference is not clear, the study’s lead author pointed to growing evidence of a link between obesity status and brain function, including imaging studies that have linked obesity with more rapid loss of hippocampal volume—a possible explanation for the reduction in capacity for memory gains in older adults with obesity.

“Other work has shown that weight loss can lead to improvements in memory function,” said Daniel Clark, lead author of the paper, which was published in the journal Obesity. “Addressing dementia risk factors like obesity at any age is important, as recent science indicates a life-course cumulative risk.”

This article originally appeared in Mind, Mood & Memory, a publication of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital dedicated to maintaining mental fitness from middle age and beyond.

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