TIME Mental Health/Psychology

17 Ways to Age-Proof Your Brain

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Sharpen your memory with these surprising anti-aging tricks

What’s good for your body is good for your brain. That means eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies and not much sugar, saturated fat, or alcohol, as well as getting enough exercise and sleeping about eight hours a night. But evidence is accumulating that a whole host of other activities can help keep our brains young even as we advance in chronological age. There is no one magic activity that you need to take on, but trying a handful of the following will help.

Take dance lessons

Seniors who danced three to four times a week—especially those who ballroom danced—had a 75% lower risk of dementia compared with people who did not dance at all, found a 2003 landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Why? “Dancing is a complex activity,” says study lead author Joe Verghese, MD, chief of geriatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “It’s aerobic so it improves blood flow to the brain which has been shown to improve brain connections. It also provides mental challenges.” While it can be hard to prove cause and effect (people with dementia may cut back on activities), the study enrolled people without dementia and followed them over time.

Play an instrument

Whether it’s the saxophone, the piano, or a ukulele, researchers found that playing an instrument for 10 or more years was correlated with better memory in advanced age compared to those who played music for less than 10 years (or not at all). Other research shows that even listening to music can help boost your brainpower. A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine found that listening to baroque music (Vivaldi, Bach) leads to changes in the brain that help with attention and storing events into memory.

Learn a foreign language

Being bilingual may help delay the onset of dementia. Individuals who spoke two languages developed dementia an average of four and a half years later than people who only spoke one language in a 2013 study published in the journal Neurology. Other research shows that people who speak more than one language are better at multitasking and paying attention. Experts say the earlier you learn, the better—growing up speaking two languages is optimal—but that it’s never too late and every little bit of language learning helps.

Play chess

Playing chess, bingo, checkers, and card games may help keep your brain fit. A 2013 French study found a 15% lower risk of dementia among people who played board games versus those who did not. And the effects seemed to last over the study’s 20-year follow-up. “The idea is that this helps build cognitive reserve,” says Dr. Verghese, whose study also found benefits to playing board games like Monopoly. “The more these activities buffer against the disease, you may be able to mask the effects of the disease for longer periods of time. It buys you extra time.”

HEALTH.COM: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

Read more of less

Reading, in general, is good for the brain. But reading fewer books and articles so you can give them each of them more focused attention may be even better. “Our brain doesn’t do very well with too much information. The more you download, the more it shuts the brain down,” says Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas. “It’s better to read one or two good articles and think about them in a deeper sense rather than read 20.”

Change your font

Next time you have to read through some documents for work, consider changing the typeface before you print them out. Chances are, the docs came to you in an easy-to-read font like Arial or Times New Roman, but switching it to something a little less legible like Comic Sans or Bodoni may improve your comprehension and recall of the information, according to a small study out of Harvard University. Likewise, a study at a Ohio high school revealed that students who received handouts with less-legible type performed better on tests than the students who were given more readable materials. It’s a version of the no-pain-no-gain phenomenon: When you exert more effort, your brain rewards you by becoming stronger. But make sure you keep things new by changing fonts regularly.

Single-task

If you think your ability to multitask proves you’ve got a strong brain, think again. “Multitasking hijacks your frontal lobe,” says Chapman, who is also the author of Make Your Brain Smarter. The frontal lobe regulates decision-making, problem-solving, and other aspects of learning that are critical to maintaining brain health. Research has shown that doing one thing at a time—not everything at once—strengthens higher-order reasoning, or the ability to learn, understand, and apply new information.

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Write about your stress

In one study, college students who wrote about stressful experiences for 20 minutes three days in a row improved their working memories and their grade point averages. Students who wrote about neutral events saw no such improvements. “We hypothesized that stress causes unwanted, intrusive thoughts,” says study co-author Adriel Boals, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of North Texas in Denton. “Writing gets rid of intrusive thoughts then working memory increases.” If something’s bothering you, don’t bottle it up.

Take up knitting

Activities that put your hands to work, like knitting, crocheting, and gardening, are proven stress relievers, and they may also keep your brain young. In a 2013 survey of about 3,500 knitters around the world, there was a correlation between knitting frequency and cognitive function; the more people knitted, the better function they had.

Find your purpose

People who feel they’ve found their purpose in life have lower rates of depression and tend to live longer. Studies also show that this positive outlook also benefits the brain. In one study, those who reported having a strong purpose in life were more than twice as likely to stay Alzheimer’s-free than people who did not profess a purpose. To develop a sense of purpose, focus on the positive impact you have at home or at work. You could also try volunteering for a cause that’s meaningful to you.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Ways to Improve Your Concentration at Work

Be social

Spending lots of time with friends and family, especially as you get older, may be one of the best buffers against mental decline. In one study, people who participated in social activities more often and who felt that they had ample social support did better on several measures of memory, as well as mental processing speed. “Social engagement is linked with mental agility,” says Carey Gleason, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

Play a video game

Companies like Lumosity charge you a monthly fee for brain-training games, but playing puzzle games on your kid’s Xbox may have the same effects—and depending on what you play, may be even more effective. In a Florida State University study, subjects either played games on Lumosity.com or played Portal 2, a popular action-puzzle game for computers, Playstation, and Xbox. Those who played Portal 2 scored better on problem solving, spatial skill, and persistence tests. Other research shows that playing Tetris may increase gray matter in the brain.

Use your time efficiently

Don’t spend an hour doing something that should take you 10 minutes. Conversely, don’t spend 10 minutes on something that deserves an hour. In other words, calibrate your mental energy. “Decide from the get-go how much mental energy you are going to spend on a task,” says Chapman. “Giving your full forceful energy all the time really degrades resources. You need to know when to do something fast and when to do something slow.”

HEALTH.COM: 15 Diseases Doctors Often Miss

Write by hand

Sure, typing is faster, but writing longhand may be better for your brain. Studies have shown that students learn better when they take notes by hand because it forces them to process the information as they take it in. The cursive you learned in elementary school may be particularly useful. First graders who learned to write in cursive scored higher on reading and spelling than peers who wrote in print.

Take naps

Go ahead, sneak in a super-quick catnap: it’ll recharge your brain. One group of German researchers saw improvements in memory among people who dozed for as little as six minutes, although the results were even better among those who napped longer. Conversely, problems sleeping, including sleep apnea and insomnia, are associated with dementia. That research is still early (people with dementia have disturbed sleep), but bear in mind that sleeping seven to eight hours a night may help you live longer and, hopefully, healthier.

Wash the dishes

It may be easier than you think to get the optimal amount of physical activity. According to one study, washing the dishes, cooking, and cleaning can add to our daily activity total and are linked with a reduced risk of dementia. In the study, people with the least amount of total physical activity were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared with people reporting the most activity. Even playing cards and moving a wheelchair counted.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

Ramp it up

Whether it’s physical activity or mental activity, you need to keep pushing your limits in order to reap the benefits. “You need to challenge yourself to the next level so you get the benefits,” says Verghese. Don’t be satisfied with finishing Monday’s easy crossword puzzle. Keep going until you master Saturday’s brainteaser as well. The same with walking: keep lengthening your distance.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Aging

What You Should Know About Early-Onset Alzheimer’s

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The condition affects about 200,000 people in the United States

Julianne Moore won a Golden Globe Sunday for her portrayal of an early-onset Alzheimer’s patient in the film Still Alice. Moore’s character, Alice Howland, is just 50 when she is diagnosed, and the movie follows her and her family’s struggle to cope as her memory and mental state decline.

But what is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and who is at risk? Here’s what you should know about the condition that affects about 200,000 people in the United States.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Not just for old people

Alzheimer’s disease is usually thought of as something senior citizens get. While that is often true, it’s not always the case: Up to 5% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are under age 65—usually in their 40s or 50s—and are considered to have an “early onset” or “younger onset” of the disease.

Symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s are no different than symptoms of more traditional cases, says Mary Sano, PhD, professor of psychiatry and director of Alzheimer’s disease research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in the Bronx, whom Moore consulted during her research for Still Alice. But because the condition is so rare in adults under 65, the signs may not be recognized as quickly by patients themselves, or by those around them.

“By the time people ask for help, something strange has probably been going on for at least six months,” says Sano. “And often, it’s family members and close friends who can provide a point of view that a change has occurred, which can allow that person to realize something is wrong.”

HEALTH.COM: 7 Ways to Protect Your Memory

Because early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is so uncommon, diagnosis may also require testing above and beyond what a senior citizen might undergo. “We want to demonstrate that what’s really present is a cognitive problem and not a psychological or physical problem,” says Sano. “For a younger person, we’ll do a more rigorous workup, including imaging and other tests, because we want to make sure we get this right.”

Early-onset disease has a strong genetic component, so family history—if the patient knows enough about it—can be a big part of a person’s diagnosis, as well. A blood test can determine whether someone has a gene mutation that puts them at higher risk for familial Alzheimer’s, but cannot prove whether they have (or will get) the disease.

What it’s like—and what it’s not

First things first: Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is uncommon, and it’s not responsible for most cases of middle-aged forgetfulness—like not being able to remember where you put your keys, or the name of someone you met at a cocktail party last night, for example.

Episodes like these, says Sano, are most likely due to preoccupation or periods of temporary stress, and usually aren’t anything to worry about.

When you should be concerned, she says, is when problems with your memory begin to interfere with your ability to do the things that are most important to you, or when you start to have difficulty completing common, everyday tasks. “It’s the persistence and the erratic nature of the symptoms that’s the real warning sign.”

In fact, Sano says, people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease often subconsciously modify or adapt their routines to the point where they don’t even notice specific red-flag incidents. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, warning signs may include the regular use of memory devices, relying on friends and family to do things you used to handle yourself, or withdrawal from work or social activities.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

Symptoms are different for everyone, but one thing to watch for is difficulty remembering and retaining new information, says Sano. “Not being able to learn your new computer password, or to learn a new activity or take on a new project—those are usually the challenges at the earliest stages of the disease,” she says.

As the disease progresses, however, all forms of memory are affected. In Still Alice, Moore’s character becomes concerned when she—a linguistics who is known for her mastery of speech—loses her train of thought during a presentation and cannot think of the words to continue. In other scenes throughout the movie, she gets disoriented while out for a jog, forgets her daughter’s name, and, yes, misplaces her keys.

As the movie shows, early-onset Alzheimer’s can be especially devastating because people in their 40s and 50s are often still working and caring for children. “They’re at risk for having more functional loss, and having their life and their family’s lives affected much more than someone who’s several decades older,” says Sano. “And so the management of the disease really requires a lot of thoughtfulness and a lot of extra service.”

Treatment and hope

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, no matter what age onset occurs. But there are drugs that can slow its progression, and there are ways in which Alzheimer’s patients and their families can better manage living with the disease.

Staying physically, socially, and mental active can also provide protection against the disease and may help people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease maintain their cognition longer, says Sano. Specifically, research has shown that doing crossword puzzles and speaking a second language may help slow declines in thinking and memory.

In addition, there are many opportunities for Alzheimer’s patients to take part in ongoing research, says Sano, which may lead the way to better treatment options. She recommends talking to your doctor or visiting the National Institutes of Health’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center online for information about clinical trials happening near you.

Sano hasn’t seen Moore’s performance in Still Alice (the movie will be officially released on Friday), but she’s glad the actress did her due diligence when preparing for the part. “When we worked with her, we were impressed with her awareness of the impact of the disease—not only on the individuals, but on the people around them as well,” she says.

She’s also grateful for the opportunity the film provides to show people another side to Alzheimer’s disease. “Many people don’t know what this is and so they don’t seek advice when they see victims,” she says. “It’s critically important to allow people to find out about the disease, and raise awareness about something they need to pay attention to—something they may even be living through.”

HEALTH.COM: 15 Diseases Doctors Misdiagnose

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Study: Teens Who Get Less Sleep More Vulnerable to Drinking Problems

Researchers found that sleep-deprived teenagers drink more than their peers

Sleep-deprived teenagers are more likely than their peers to develop drinking problems later in life, according to a study published Friday.

Researchers found that teenagers from the ages of 14 through 16 who had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep were nearly 50% more likely to binge-drink, NPR reports, and 14% more likely to drive drunk. Polls show that nearly half of adolescents don’t get the recommended eight-to-10 hours of sleep each night.

Sleeping patterns were also linked with alcohol issues later in life. Five years later, when the teens in the study reached college age, they were were 10% more likely to drive drunk.

“We’re not saying that sleep is the only risk factor for alcohol use,” says Maria Wong, a psychologist at Idaho State University. But “this study shows that sleep issues can actually precede and even predict alcohol use later on.”

Each extra hour of sleep the teens got in the study corresponded with a 10 percent decrease in binge drinking, Wong said.

The findings are based on data collected from 6,500 adolescents and published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

[NPR]

TIME

There’s a Promising Pill For Binge Eating Disorder

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Correction appended, Jan. 15, 2015

A drug typically used to treat ADHD in adults and kids may also be an effective treatment for binge eating disorder, a new study shows.

In the study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers tested the safety and effectiveness of the drug lisdexamfetamine dimesylate on people with binge eating disorder—those who repeatedly eat an excessive amount of food, accompanied by a sense of having no control. When people took the drug every day for 11 weeks, half of them stopped binge eating entirely, which was more than the placebo group.

A drug that can treat both ADHD and an eating disorder may seem like an odd pairing, but lisdexamfetamine dimesylate works by acting on the dopamine and norepinephrine systems in the brain, which are two pathways that help control rewards and control. People with binge eating disorder can experience reward dysfunction and be very impulsive, similar to symptoms in people with ADHD. Norepinephrine helps with focus and concentration, while the dopamine helps recalibrate the rewards system—so the drug may help binge eaters feel more in control and able to avoid mindless eating.

“This study adds to our toolbox in that we have another treatment to potentially offer to people suffering binge eating disorder,” says study author and eating disorders and obesity expert Denise E. Wilfley of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “What we really want is a comprehensive treatment plan. There is a lot of loneliness and isolation needs to be met.” (Pharmaceutical company Shire, which has a version of lisdexamfetamine dimesylate, funded the trial and has supported prior research performed by Wilfley as well).

Another drug called topiramate has been used similarly to treat eating disorders, but has been shown to have some serious side effects, including cognitive problems. But in the new study, lisdexamfetamine dimesylate caused side effects similar to those in people with ADHD who take the drug, none of them serious, the results showed. One patient in the new study died, but the cause of death was determined to be methamphetamine overdose. The study authors do not believe it was related to the study.

Other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy have already proven to be successful at treating binge eating disorder—which was only formally recognized as a disorder in 2013—but this study didn’t compare the effectiveness of the drug to the other treatments. Another question researchers want to explore is whether the drug wears off at night, a common time for people to binge, so more research is needed.

Even so, the fact that the drug succeeded because it was able to give a person more cognitive control opens the door to other non-pharmacological treatments, some of which show impressive results. Meditation, for instance, has been shown to help enhance executive function, as has exercise. Given how recently binge eating disorder was formally recognized as a problem, researchers hope there will soon be a variety of ways to treat it.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the relationship between the pharmaceutical company Shire and the trial’s research. The company funded the study.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Can Make People Trust You With This Scent, Study Says

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If you want to sneakily lull your colleagues into liking you, a new study published in the journal Frontiers suggests you may want to start spritzing the joint with lavender.

Researchers in the Netherlands led by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato knew that how we respond to others depends not not only on our relationships but also on environment, the authors write. One 1997 study, for instance, showed that prosocial behavior, like picking up a dropped item from the floor, went up significantly when pleasant fragrances were in the air—rather than when air just smelled like air.

The researchers wanted to further test the theory that smell influences behavior so they set up a trust game in a room misted with one of two aromas: lavender, which is considered soothing, and peppermint, which is associated with alertness and energy. The researchers put a few drops of essential oils, diffused by a candle, in the room before the 90 young adults in the study came in to play.

The trust game is a test behavioral researchers use to measure levels of trust. One person (the “trustor”) gets money, and they can keep it or give any amount of it to the other person. When they do, the profits are tripled, and the person who just got a cash infusion (the “trustee”) gets to decide whether to share it with the original trustor.

Without being told about any change in scent, when people smelled lavender, they gave significantly more money than when they had sniffed peppermint or nothing at all.

“Lavender has this effect because of its calming property,” said study co-author Lorenza Colzato, cognitive psychologist and assistant professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands, in an email. “This hypothesis is supported by the fact that, from an anatomical point of view, the olfactory nerve is connected to the medial prefrontal cortex a brain region that ‘controls’ the way we trust others.”

Such an intervention could be helpful in negotiations, bargaining or any kind of team spirit building, she says.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

The More Hours You Work, the More You Drink, Study Says

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People across the socioeconomic spectrum use alcohol to unwind

People who work more than 48 hours a week are more likely to drink at dangerous levels than their counterparts who work fewer hours, according to new research. The link between alcohol misuse and long work hours suggests that employers have a role to play in stemming alcohol abuse, according to the study in the BMJ.

The study, which reviewed data from more than 300,000 participants, defined risky drinking as the consumption of more than 14 drinks per week for women and 21 drinks for men.

“If people are [engaging in] risky drinking, they don’t sleep well, they’re not as socially engaged,” says Cassandra Okechukwu, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who wrote an editorial to accompany the study. “It’s really important for work places to pay attention to the productivity of their workers and work environment.”

MORE Alcohol Kills 1 Person Every 10 Seconds, Report Says

The study found the connection between long hours and increased alcohol consumption to be consistent across socioeconomic groups, so a fast food worker who works 60 hours at two jobs is just as likely to consume more alcohol as a banker who works the same hours. People across the spectrum use alcohol to unwind, says Okechukwu.

While the study identifies public health issues associated with working long hours, it offers little policy guidance on how to solve the problem. In Europe, the European Union Working Time Directive encourages employers to limit their workers’ weeks to 48 hours on the job, but many people still work longer. Enacting labor laws would be even more difficult in the United States, where few policies regulate working hours.

“I don’t want to make policy recommendations,” Okechukwu says. “In the U.S., we’re not even there yet.”

TIME Healthcare

When Can a Person Be Forced to Receive Medical Care?

'We subscribe to the principle that people should get to make decisions for themselves almost all the time'

Last week, the case of a Connecticut teenager, identified as Cassandra C., 17, made headlines. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Cassandra wanted to forgo chemotherapy altogether—a decision her mother reportedly supported. But in early January, child services took the 17-year-old into custody and on Jan. 8 the state Supreme Court denied the teenager’s request to not receive the drugs.

The state’s interference in a personal decision about health care provides a rare lens into when and how health officials can mandate health care. Forced treatment is rare, but it happens when people, most often minors and the mentally ill, find themselves in extenuating circumstances.

“We subscribe to the principle that people should get to make decisions for themselves almost all the time,” says Paul S. Appelbaum, a psychiatry, medicine and law professor at Columbia University. “The exceptions to that rule are rare. What we’re seeing play out in Connecticut is really the exception, not the rule.”

Competent adults in the United States are almost always permitted to make their own health care decisions, even if that means forgoing a potentially life-saving treatment. Even in cases of highly infectious disease, state laws don’t typically allow forced medical treatment. Instead, sick individuals may be quarantined until they agree to comply with treatment procedures.

The most obvious exception to the principle applies to mentally ill patients deemed incompetent to make their own health decisions. Though laws vary for long-term involuntary treatment between states, most jurisdictions allow short-term hospitalization for individuals thought to be a risk to themselves or others.

Read more: Dangerous Cases: Crime and Treatment

Minors have no official say when it comes to decisions about their health care; parents or guardians are typically charged with making treatment decisions on their behalf. (Minors do have the right to petition the courts to show that they are “mature”—something Cassandra from Connecticut did—and therefore capable of making their own decisions. Cassandra’s petition was denied.)

If parents refuse a recommended treatment, the state typically works with parents to reach a mutually agreeable solution, says Appelbaum. If the parties still can’t agree, the case may go to the courts. “The legal principles here are fairly consistent, but their application is not necessarily straightforward,” said Appelbaum of the difficulty of resolving health care issues in court. “There is no algorithm.”

When brought to court, judges weigh a range of concerns, including the consequences of leaving an ailment untreated. Life-threatening conditions are much more likely to result in forced treatment than, say, a recommended cosmetic surgery, said Appelbaum.

“How long is a person actually supposed to live, and why? Who determines that?” Cassandra wrote in a op-ed in the Hartford Courant. “I care about the quality of my life, not just the quantity.”

The court, which had previously ruled Cassandra’s mother unfit to make decisions on her daughter’s behalf, rejected Cassandra’s explanation and ordered her to undergo chemotherapy.

“This is a curable illness, and we will continue to ensure that Cassandra receives the treatment she needs to become a healthy and happy adult,” said a statement from the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Naps May Help Babies Retain Memories, Study Finds

A 30-minute nap is thought to be an appropriate sleeping time

Taking naps after learning new information may help increase a baby’s memory, a new study suggests.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is based on tests of six- and 12-month-old babies to see how they retained memories, using a puppet with a removable mitten attached to a bell. Researchers repeated a sequence of actions using the contraption, several times, before the infants took naps of varying lengths.

Those who took naps that lasted longer than 30 minutes were more likely to remember how the device worked than babies who napped for only short periods after the lesson, the New York Times reported. Sleeping has long been tied to improving memory among humans. A recent study by researchers in Montreal found that children who get a good night’s sleep perform better in math and languages. So it makes sense that the benefits of sleep would also help infants.

Study author Sabine Seehagen of Ruhr University Bochum in Germany told U.S. News and World Report it was “quite unlikely” that the babies who didn’t nap simply didn’t remember the information because they were tired. Rather, it’s likely that the actual act of sleeping helped the babies to retain the new knowledge.

[NYT]

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Here’s Proof That Facebook Knows You Better Than Your Friends

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Your operating system knows you so well, says science

Nobody knows us better than our family and friends, right? Who else could predict how we’ll react to good and bad news, or whether to pick the pie or ice cream for dessert?

Facebook, for one. Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University studied how Facebook Likes matched up with people’s own answers on personality tests, as well as those of their close family and friends. With enough Likes of objects, brands, people, music or books, the computer was better at predicting a person’s personality than most of the people closest to them—with the exception of spouses. (They still know us best, it seems.)

MORE: Why a Facebook ‘Sympathize’ Button Is a Terrible Idea

Wu Youyou, a PhD student in the Psychometrics Center at the University of Cambridge, and her colleagues had previously investigated how computer models could predict demographic and psychological traits in people. But inspired by the movie Her, they were curious about how the models would do in evaluating personality traits. They asked 86,220 people on Facebook to complete a 100-question personality survey that determined where they stood on the so-called Big Five traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. They then analyzed their Facebook Likes to generate a model in which Likes were linked to the traits. Likers of meditation, TED talks and Salvador Dali, for example, tended to score higher on openness, while those who liked reality star Snookie, dancing and partying were more extraverted.

On average, people on Facebook had 227 Likes, and this was enough information for the computer to be a better predictor of personality than an average human judge (in other words, a friend), and almost as good as a spouse. The more Likes, the better the computer got. It only took 10 Likes for the computer to outperform a work colleague, for instance, 70 to do better than a friend, and 150 to outscore a family member.

MORE: How Well Do You Know Your Facebook Friends?

“We know people are pretty good at predicting people’s personality traits, because it’s such an important thing in all of our interactions,” says Youyou. “But we were surprised by how computers were able to do better than most friends by using just a single kind of digital data such as Facebook Likes.”

Computers are such good predictors because they can take all the Likes at face value and treat them equally, says Youyou’s co-author Michal Kosinski from Stanford’s department of computer science. People tend to forget information if it’s not top of mind and tend to give more weight to memorable or recent events, potentially biasing our evaluations. But computers can treat each piece of information objectively.

MORE: Your Facebook Profile is Also a Professional Tool

Still, the computer strategy isn’t always entirely accurate. It can’t account for changes in people’s moods and behaviors and outlooks, and given that people are notoriously dynamic, that could be a problem. (People who scored higher on the extraversion scale, for example, did like meeting new people but also inexplicably Liked Tiffany & Co., while those who were more conscientious expressed preferences for mountain biking and motorcycles.) But Kosinski thinks that this kind of computer modeling could help processes like career planning and job recruitment. People just entering the job market could benefit from such personality profiling, which could better link them to the right industries and jobs in those sectors. A free spirit who likes to travel, explore and take risks, for example, likely wouldn’t be happy as an accountant, while an introverted person wouldn’t be ideal for a marketing or public relations position.

Kosinski also speculates that computers could streamline job recruitment. Many companies use personality questionnaires, especially when seeking high-level executives, but such questionnaires can be inaccurate and unreliable, as candidates are incentivized to give the answers they think the company wants to see. Computers might be able to come up with a more accurate personality profile than these questionnaires, if the Facebook data are any indication.

Kosinski recognizes that applying such models is tricky. “We have to be really cautious and make sure we don’t upset people and don’t do anything that breaches the trust between the applicant and the employer, if the employer starts testing without explicit consent,” he says. “But we certainly hope that these technologies can be used to better human life.”

Read next: How Much Time Have You Wasted on Facebook?

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TIME Exercise/Fitness

15 Things Nobody Tells You About Losing Weight

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All the weird, wonderful, and sometimes frustrating ways that dropping pounds changes your life

Losing weight does more than give you an excuse to buy new clothes. Dropping just 5 to 10% of your body weight can improve your overall health and reduce your risk for chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. But shedding unwanted pounds can also have less-obvious effects, and not always for the better, says Adam Tsai, MD, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado and a spokesperson for the Obesity Society. Here are the good things—and the bad—that you don’t normally hear about losing weight.

Your energy levels will skyrocket

A big energy boost is often the first thing people notice when they start dropping weight. Why? When you’re carrying around fewer pounds, you use less energy to simply go about your day, says Dr. Tsai. Weight loss also improves oxygen efficiency, so you won’t find yourself out of breath so easily when climbing stairs or hustling to catch the bus.

Your memory may improve

In a 2013 Swedish study, older women scored better on memory tests after six months of following a weight-loss plan. Brain scans showed more activity during the encoding process (when memories are formed) and less activity during memory retrieval, suggesting greater recall efficiency. “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,” said study author Andreas Pettersson, MD, in a press release. Previous research has also linked obesity to poor memory, especially in pear-shaped women who carry extra pounds around their hips.

Your relationship will be tested

Losing weight can make you feel sexier, but your slimmed-down body—and that newfound confidence—won’t necessarily strengthen your bond with your spouse. In a 2013 study from North Carolina State University, researchers found that although dropping 60 pounds or more in two years or less usually improved couples’ relationships, occasionally a dieter’s partner felt jealous or threatened. Why? Your body transformation may force your significant other to consider his or her own health choices, says Gail Saltz, MD, Health‘s contributing psychology editor. Another problem: Your partner may worry about how your personality might change. “You feeling great, sexy, or confident could shift the balance of the relationship,” Dr. Saltz says. “They fear losing the identity of the more confident one or losing the upper hand.” Many of these challenges could apply to friendships, too.

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Your risk of cancer will be lower

You know that smoking, sun exposure, and radiation can cause cancer, but obesity has been linked to several types of cancers as well, says Dr. Tsai. Being overweight causes inflammation that triggers cell changes within the body. Dangerous levels of inflammation can be lowered, however, by losing just 5% of your body weight, according to a 2012 study on post-menopausal women published in the journal Cancer Research. And a 2014 study published in Obesity Research found that morbidly obese men who underwent bariatric surgery reduced their cancer risk over the following years to roughly that of normal-weight people.

If you were depressed before, that may not change

Does being overweight make you depressed—or does being depressed lead to weight gain? It’s not always possible to tell what comes first, says Dr. Tsai. And while most people feel happier after they’ve lost weight, it’s not a cure-all. “For a smaller percentage of people, mood will not improve even after they lose 100 pounds,” he says. That may be because weight loss doesn’t address any underlying problems you may have, says Dr. Saltz.

Foods may taste different

Losing a lot of weight in a small amount of time may alter your taste buds. A recent Stanford University study revealed that after bariatric surgery, 87% of patients reported a change in their sense of taste. About half said food tasted sharper, while the other half said food tasted duller. The upshot: those who tasted food less intensely after surgery lost 20% more weight over three months than those who said foods tasted stronger. The study authors say more research is needed to determine why the change in taste occurs, but another recent study did have similar findings. The study, from Leicester Royal Infirmary in the United Kingdom, found that three quarters of weight loss surgery patients developed a dislike for certain foods after their operations, most often meat and dairy products.

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Working out will be more fun

When you’re carrying around extra pounds, exercising can make your joints hurt and lungs burn more than someone who’s at a normal weight, says Dr. Tsai. Once you start to slim down, exercise will start to feel less like a chore and more like the fun, energizing experience that it should be. Plus, being lighter can also make you faster and stronger. Take running, for example: It’s generally believed that for every pound lost, an athlete can shave two seconds off the time it takes to run a mile.

Your bones may change

Ever heard that losing weight weakens your bones? While it’s true that weight loss is associated with bone loss, it’s only a big concern if you become underweight or follow an unhealthy diet, and the National Osteoporosis Foundation says that the benefits of weight loss usually outweigh the risks. Extra weight can make your bones stronger (they have to be, to carry the extra pounds) but it also damages joints. And new research suggests that visceral fat around the belly is particularly bad for bones, for both men and women. Losing weight can help, as well as reduce arthritis symptoms, according to a 2013 review published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

You’ll probably spend less on health care

Normal-weight people spend less money on medical bills and expenses than their overweight peers, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Health Affairs. Specifically, researchers found obese people spent $1,429 more—that’s 42% higher—than their normal-weight peers, most of which went toward prescription medications needed to manage chronic conditions. And a 2014 report on Michigan residents found that annual health care costs for people who were extremely obese were a whopping 90% higher than those of normal-weight individuals.

In related sad-but-true news, you might notice something else when you lose weight, as well: Doctors (whose bias against obese patients has been well documented) may treat you better, too.

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You may get a raise

It’s not just doctors who may treat you better after losing weight; your employer might, too. Studies have shown that obese people make less money than normal-weight workers, especially among women. In fact, a 2004 study published in Health Economics found that the average paycheck for an obese worker was about 2.5% lower than that of a thinner employee. Dropping down to a healthy weight may also get you more job offers, according to a 2014 British study.

You may be able to toss your meds

Maintaining a healthy weight can protect you against diabetes and heart disease—but what if you’re already overweight and suffering from these conditions? Good news: Slimming down can still help. “These conditions won’t necessarily go away, but you may be able to reduce your symptoms and the amount of medication you take,” says Dr. Tsai.

You may be able to take less blood pressure or cholesterol medication, for example, or learn to manage your type 2 diabetes without giving yourself daily injections. Studies also show that losing weight may allow you control chronic conditions like asthma and heartburn without (or with less) medication, as well. In related sad-but-true news, you might notice something else when you lose weight, as well: Doctors (whose bias against obese patients has been well documented) may treat you better, too.

Your skin may sag

One thing many people aren’t prepared for after a dramatic weight loss is the loose, sagging skin. It won’t go away overnight—or perhaps ever—and it may leave you feeling disappointed with your new body. Some opt for body contouring procedures like a facelift, breast lift, or tummy tuck, but any surgery carries risks, and in most cases insurance will not cover these cosmetic surgeries.

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You’ll catch more zzz’s

People who lost at least 5% of their body weight over a six-month period slept an average of 22 minutes longer than they had previously in a 2014 University of Pennsylvania study. And earlier in the year, Finnish researchers reported that modest weight loss significantly improved symptoms of sleep apnea.

“Losing weight usually means there’s less there to physically constrict your breathing and less soft tissue to block the upper airways,” says Dr. Tsai. Better sleep also helps your body burn fat more efficiently, so getting a good night’s sleep means you’ll be more likely to keep those pounds off.

You could boost your chances of having a baby

If you’ve been trying to get pregnant, losing a few pounds may help. A 2009 study published in Fertility and Sterility found that obesity in women is associated with infertility and polycystic ovary syndrome, and that the younger a woman is when she becomes obese, the harder it could be for her to get pregnant.

Slimming down can also help ensure that you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, since a mom’s weight during (and even before) has been linked to all sorts of health outcomes for her kids.

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Your eye health will improve

Matthew McConaughey told interviewers that his rapid weight-loss in preparation for his role as an AIDS victim in Dallas Buyers Club caused him to start losing his eyesight. That may be the result of extreme calorie restriction or nutritional deficiencies—but for most people, weight loss can actually protect their vision from obesity-related conditions like type 2 diabetes.

A 2013 University of Georgia study, for example, found that higher body fat percentage was associated with lower levels of the antioxidants lutien and zeaxanthin in retinal tissue. “The results indicate that adiposity may affect the nutritional state of the retina,” the authors wrote. “Such links may be one of the reasons that obesity promotes age-related degenerative conditions.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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