Shed pounds to gain a brain

Megan Wilkinson

Students who improve their dietary and exercise habits may also improve their academics.

Recent studies by a Kent State professor have found that individuals who lose weight can improve their memory too.

John Gunstad, associate professor of psychology, is working with a team of researchers from the Neuropsychiatric Research Institute in North Dakota, Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and Columbia University in New York to see if overweight patients undergoing bariatric surgery improve their memory. He said he and his team are hopeful that weight-loss surgery will improve health conditions and cognitive functions.

Gunstad said excessive weight as a young adult has negative impacts on the brain. He said some individuals who are overweight are more likely to develop health conditions such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea.

“Scientists have known for some time that obesity causes medical problems that harm the brain,” he said. “Like, we know that people who are obese are two times more likely than people who aren’t to develop any kind of dementia.”

Nutrition and Exercise Tips:

– Good foods to eat: fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

– Eat breakfast after waking up. Natalie Caine-Bish, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics, said eating breakfast will stimulate metabolism more, which helps to lose weight.

– Eat smaller meals five to six times a day instead of two or three large meals. “Students tend to overeat if they only have two or three meals a day,” Caine-Bish said. “You also consume more than you really need. By eating more small meals, you never get to the point where you feel excessively hungry.”

– Stay hydrated. Caine-Bish said she recommends drinking water. If students want something with more taste, try natural juices.

– Avoid caffeinated beverages. Caine-Bish said these drinks can be extremely dangerous and cause problems after the effects wear off.

– Consume at least 1,200 calories a day. Starving yourself is not healthy; it makes it harder to lose weight in the long run. Caine-Bish said on average, individuals aiming to lose weight should only be losing around half a pound to two pounds per week.

– When stressing out about studying, go for a walk for close to 15 minutes, and then continue to study. “It frees up your ability to think,” Glickman said. “It’s a positive thing, and it really helps you remember things. Plus, you will feel better about yourself.”

– Glickman said exercise three to five days a week for 30 to 50 minutes each session.

Gunstad said he and the team have been working on this project for about five years. For the study, Gunstad said he gathered two groups of obese individuals. One group was to undergo weight-loss surgery, and the other was to remain the same.

“The primary finding so far is that obese people who undergo bariatric surgery show improved memory 12 weeks after surgery,” Gunstad said. “No such change happened with the other group. Something about losing weight or the behavior changes after the surgery helps memory.”

Gunstad said it is still not known exactly what factors helped improve the patients’ memory. He said the team hopes to study the topic for another one to four years.

“Though we’re not positive on why we’re getting these results, one idea is that when you lose weight, you have improved flow of blood to the brain,” Gunstad said. “Your brain also has more oxygen. Then, exercise also produces certain chemicals that help the body, too.”

James Arnold, junior chemistry major, said he decided to improve his health habits last semester. He began a workout regiment where he lifted weights three days a week and ran three other days of the week. Arnold said he also began eating leaner foods, like fruits and vegetables.

“I noticed a big difference in how much energy I had within a few weeks,” Arnold said. “I also didn’t have to study as hard in order to understand the material for my classes.”

Arnold said students should try to become more active instead of just sitting around. He said there has been improvement in his classes since then.

“I saw a lot of improvement in my memory,” Arnold said. “I had more energy than usual. I think having a proper diet and workout schedules helps a lot when it comes to schoolwork.”

Ellen Glickman, professor of health sciences, said students will have better luck keeping exercise habits if they enjoy the activity.

“Exercise and good health should always be a part of your life,” Glickman said. “Don’t just do it toward the end of the school year. Continue and make it a life habit.”

Contact Megan Wilkinson at [email protected]