Our memories are an integral part of who we are, but as we age our memory can decline. For many older adults, the decline becomes so serious that they’re no longer able to live independently, which is one of the biggest fears adults have as they age.
Simple Changes to Help Retain Your Memory
While this can be a completely normal occurrence, having a poor memory can be frustrating. Genetics play a role in memory loss, especially in serious neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. However, research has shown that diet and lifestyle have a major impact on memory too.
Although there are no guarantees when it comes to preventing memory loss or dementia, certain activities might help. Consider these seven simple ways to sharpen your memory — and know when to seek help for memory loss.
Include Physical Activity in Your Daily Routine
Working out boosts the flow of oxygen to your brain and helps squelch stress, which can both go a long way towards protecting the health of your noggin and keeping your memory sharp.
Research has found that exercise can boost your brain's dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels and all these will affect focus and attention. Individuals who do some form of exercise or sports perform better on cognitive tasks when compared with those who have poor physical health.
Physical movement helps relax the muscles and relieve tension in your body. Since your body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging — preferably spread throughout the week. If you don't have time for a full workout, squeeze in a few 10-minute walks throughout the day.
Learn Something New
Memory strength is just like muscular strength. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. But you can’t lift the same size weight every day and expect to get stronger.
You’ll need to keep your brain constantly challenged. Learning a new skill is an excellent way to strengthen your brain’s memory capacity.
The best brain-boosting exercises to try are those that require concentration, full engagement and a bit of mental effort. Any activity or hobby that requires hand-eye coordination and complex motor skills is also great for the mind.
Ideally you want to practice exercises that you can become increasingly good at over time, since progress is rewarding and fun. Some examples include:
- Learning a new instrument or language
- Building things with your hands
- Playing chess and other games, either online or in person
- Dancing, yoga and tai chi
- Golfing, tennis, bocce and similar sports
- Doing crossword puzzles or playing board games
Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones, friends and others — especially if you live alone.
Social connections are a key component of brain health, and emerging research on animals suggests that spending time with others can actually enhance your memory performance and protect your brain from age-related cognitive decline.
Try to Get Quality Sleep
Sleep plays an important role in helping you consolidate your memories, so you can recall them down the road. Sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation, a process in which short-term memories are strengthened and transformed into long-lasting memories.
Research shows that if you’re sleep deprived, you could be negatively impacting your memory. Make getting enough sleep a priority. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a day.
Many factors can affect your sleep. One of the most common is reading from an electronic device like a computer, phone, or tablet or watching your favorite movie or TV show on an LED TV just before bedtime.
Research has shown that such devices emit light towards the blue end of the spectrum. Such light will stimulate your eye retina and prevent the secretion of melatonin that promotes sleep anticipation in your brain. Use a filter or "blue light" glasses to minimize such blue light or avoid all electronic devices before bed.
Make Time for Meditation
The practice of meditation may positively affect your health in many ways. Meditating or practicing mindfulness activities can strengthen well-being and mental fitness and improve focus.
During the meditation process, our brain becomes calmer and our whole body becomes more relaxed. We focus on our breath during the process so that we will not be distracted by our minds.
With practice, we can learn to use our breath to bring our attention back to a particular task so that it can be done well even if we get interrupted.
In fact, meditation has been shown to increase gray matter in your brain. Gray matter contains neuron cell bodies.
As you age, gray matter declines, which negatively impacts memory and cognition. Meditation and relaxation techniques have been shown to improve short-term memory in people of all ages, from people in their 20s to older adults.
Eat a Healthy Diet Full of Fruits and Vegetables
A healthy diet might be as good for your brain as it is for your heart. What we eat contributes to how we feel, including our mental sharpness and clarity, throughout the day. If we don’t fuel our brains with the proper nutrients, we start to experience symptoms like memory loss, fatigue, and lack of concentration.
Consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods may help improve your memory. Antioxidants help lower inflammation in your body by reducing oxidative stress caused by free radicals. You can consume antioxidants in foods like fruits, vegetables, and teas.
What you drink counts, too. Too much alcohol can lead to confusion and memory loss. While having a drink or two now and then is likely OK, avoiding alcohol intake is a smart way to protect your memory. Consider these options for replacing those evening glasses or wine.
Understand When to Seek Help for Memory Loss
Cognitive decline and memory issues are pretty uncommon in younger adults. Still, it’s worth knowing the signs that something might be up so you can find out exactly what’s going on and get the appropriate help. Symptoms that warrant a call to your doc include:
- Getting lost when you’re walking or driving around an area you know
- Repeatedly putting objects in weird places
- Asking the same questions over and over
- Forgetting a word or name in conversation
- Mixing up everyday words
It’s never a bad idea to take measures to boost what you’ve got and build habits that can help protect your cognitive health. You’ll think more clearly right now, and your future self will be seriously thankful.