I have been reading a book titled Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger, by Jeff Wise. In that book, the author tells the story of some important research about the mind’s reaction to intense fear that’s being done at a skydiving facility on Long Island. He actually participated in the study, as a subject, when he skydived (skydove?) for the very first time.
He writes about going to the hospital for initial tests, including a trip through an fMRI scanner that allows researchers to peer directly into the activity levels of a living brain. Over a period of two days, the researchers took multiple samples of his blood, saliva, and urine to be sure they had a good baseline understanding of his body’s normal chemical balance. He agreed that they could take other samples the day of his skydive, and agreed to participate in some other tests the same day. Finally, he writes:
And then it’s time to go. Duncan, the jump master, hands me a pair of gloves, a leather cap, and a pair of clear plastic goggles. He quickly reviews with me the procedure for the skydive, and then we climb into the back of the Cessna with a half-dozen other divers. As the pilot starts the engine and taxis to the end of the runway, I keep telling myself that I shouldn’t be worrying, but it’s no use. I’m suffering from all the symptoms of SNS activation: My heart’s pounding; my mouth is dry; my stomach is churning. I feel ill. I try to concentrate on my breathing as the Cessna climbs steeply. I can do this, I tell myself.
The story continues, but I was intrigued with the research, so I took a little sidetrip to Google to find out if the research people had published any of their results. They had!
Here is the title of one study they published: “Higher body fat percentage is associated with increased cortisol reactivity and impaired cognitive resilience in response to acute emotional stress.” The study authors are Mujica-Parodi LR, Renelique R, Taylor MK., and you can read the abstract here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19015661
Here’s part of that paper’s summary statement:
In response to the skydive, individuals with greater body fat percentages showed significantly increased reactivity for both cortisol (on both samples) and cognition, including decreased accuracy of our task of spatial processing, selective attention and working memory. These cognitive effects were restricted to the stress response and were not found under baseline conditions. …
Our results indicate that, under real-world stress, increased body fat may be associated with endocrine stress vulnerability, with consequences for deleterious cognitive performance.
Got that? The latest research indicates that losing weight might help you make faster, better, and more accurate survival choices when your life is in danger. Now there’s a motivator for you.