If you have type 2 diabetes, your doctor has probably told you that high blood sugar levels can cause damage to your heart, nerves, blood vessels, kidneys and eyes. But did you know diabetes can also affect your memory, how well you learn, and your ability to solve problems?

A recent study showed that when people with high blood sugar levels got their levels under control, they scored better on cognitive tests. Cognitive tests assess thinking, memory and learning skills.

The study, by Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, was published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The researchers first thought that controlling blood sugar levels in combination with losing weight and exercising would benefit the brain. They were only partly right.

They found that the more weight a person with diabetes needed to lose, the worse they performed on cognitive tests, even after losing weight. “People with diabetes who let their obesity go too far for too long, may be past the point of no return [when it comes to brain function],” said Owen Carmichael, PhD, professor and director of biomedical imaging at the research center, in a press release.

There is some good news. Even though some areas of cognitive function got worse after weight loss, other areas got better, such as the ability to pay attention and short-term memory.

The take-home

What can you do to make sure your brain stays sharp?

Mayo Clinic recommends the following lifestyle choices to help prevent complications from diabetes or even keep you from developing diabetes:

  • Choose healthy foods
    • The more healthy foods you add to your plate, the more those foods will crowd out unhealthy choices. High-fiber foods that are low in calories are best. Think vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
  • Move more
    • Move throughout the day. Try to rack up at least 30 to 60 minutes each day of moderate activity, like walking, swimming or biking.
  • Lose the weight
    • The study showed how important it is to keep your weight down. Start with healthier food choices and add in movement throughout your day. Your brain will thank you.
  • Stop sitting so much
    • Get up and move every 30 minutes to get the blood flowing and the calories burning. Sitting for long stretches of time increases your risk of, not only diabetes, but obesity, varicose veins and high blood pressure.