A new study suggests retired professional football players who pack on the pounds during their game years may not be as sharp later in life as their counterparts who maintain a healthy weight.

Researchers have long said athletes exposed to repetitive brain trauma from concussions in sports like football are already at increased risk for brain function problems, but in the Jan. 17 online issue of Translational Psychiatry, Daniel Amen, medical director of Amen Clinics in Newport Beach, CA, and his colleagues detail a connection between weight and brain health as well.

In their study, the blood flow in the brains of 38 healthy-weight and 38 overweight retired National League Football players were compared, with the results showing the overweight players had decreased blood flow in the areas of the brain associated with functionality like attention, reasoning, organizing and planning. They also had decreased performance in attention and memory tests.

If these results are confirmed by further studies, researchers say weight education and management may be essential to the future health of athletes who have been exposed to repetitive brain trauma in sports.