As we age, there are strategies we can implement to nurture a stronger, sharper memory. You can in fact teach an old dog new tricks (or an old brain as the case may be!). Our brains can adapt and constantly change regardless of age.
Brains have the potential to create new cells and neural connections if provided with the proper stimuli. This is called neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change, grow and improve, as well as hone it’s memory function.
Not surprisingly, lifestyle and daily habits have a big impact on brain health and cognitive well-being, including memory. A poor diet, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, stress, can all hinder the functioning of a healthy brain.
5 Ways to Improve Your Memory
Diet & Nutrition: The old adage “you are what you eat” is so true. The foods you eat – and don’t eat – play a crucial role in memory health. A diet that includes mostly fresh, versus processed foods, one that is low in trans fats and sugar and high in healthy fats (like omega-3 fatty acids/fish oils. extra-virgin olive oils and coconut oil), antioxidants and fresh vegetables can help fuel memory power. The Mediterranean diet is linked to helping prevent cognitive decline and improving memory. More recently, a Ketogenic diet (one that is low in carbohydrates and high in healthy fats) has also been proven to improve memory and preserve brain function.
Some foods in particular have been identified as memory boosters. Walnuts and blueberries for instance, have been proven to improve brain function, memory, and concentration. Lutein, which is found in kale and spinach, avocados and eggs may also counter cognitive ageing and memory loss. Celery, broccoli and cauliflower contain anti-oxidants that protect brain health and may actually stimulate production of new brain cells.
Curry and cinnamon are two spices that are associated with memory improvement. Moderate amounts of caffeine seem to reverse memory impairment and, if you are adverse to coffee and caffeine, try peppermint tea which has proven to improve long-term and working memory. My favourite memory foods of course are cocoa and chocolate! Yes, chocolate has been found to enhance working memory performance and visual information processing.
Exercise: Healthy body, healthy mind as they say. If you want your memory to stay sharp, you need to stay active and keep your body fit. Exercise increases oxygen levels to the brain and can trigger helpful brain chemicals.1 It also decreases stress and promotes good sleep. Studies have indicated that aerobic activity and resistance training may help boost brain power and memory in people over the age of 50.
Exercise makes for improved blood flow to your brain and facilitates the neuroplasticity of certain structures in the brain which enhance cognitive function. A good workout encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by stimulating nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. One year-long study, showed that individuals who engaged in exercise were actually growing and expanding the brain’s memory centre one to two percent per year.2
For those who don’t exercise regularly, doctors recommend exercising at least three times a week and to start with 20-minute walks; build stamina slowly and expand your exercise program to include longer walks, stretching, core strengthening exercises and light weight training.
Sleep: Sleep has long been identified by scientists as the state in which our bodies optimise and consolidate newly acquired information and store it as memory. It is said that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night to maintain physical and mental health. A good night’s sleep is one of the simplest and easiest things we can do to improve information retention and memory power. A single night of sleeping only four to six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day. Two or three consecutive nights of insufficient sleep and your brain is mush! Research has also found that adults 65 and older who took an hour-long nap in the afternoon improved their performance on cognitive tests.
Brain Games: In the same way that muscles become stronger with use, memory and cognitive skills do too. If we don’t stimulate and challenge our brains with new information, eventually this vital organ will deteriorate. Research on brain plasticity shows that neurons are stimulated by events and information so that by providing your brain with the appropriate stimulus you can counter degeneration and memory loss.2 Entire websites are devoted to brain games, but you can also do a crossword puzzle every day, read newspapers and books, play bridge or mahjong.
Master a new skill – learn to play the guitar or to knit; take a course on digital photography or on some other area that interests you. Cognitive stimulation is critical for a healthy, engaged brain and improving memory. The key is to find an activity that is mentally stimulating for you, something that requires your undivided attention and makes you happy, an activity that you look forward to doing.
Relax/Stress Management: De-stressing and meditation are now clinically accepted as ways to improve your memory.3 In one study, a strong case was made for the practice of daily meditation, showing that it thickened parts of the brain’s cerebral cortex, which is responsible for decision making, attention and memory. Listening to music has also proven an effective strategy for relieving stress and reversing early memory loss in older adults. Just 25 minutes of mindfulness mediation and Hatha yoga a day has been found to have a positive effect on mood and to boost brain function. Mindfulness exercises can lead to “mind- fitness” and memory power. Stop and smell the roses, calm your nerves and relax; your memory will be the better for it.
How to Continually Improve Memory Power
In summary, a healthy, nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, keeping an eye on cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, and not smoking have all been shown to protect memory. So do sleeping well, stress management and keeping your brain stimulated. Your daily habits can truly influence how well your brain works, so take the necessary steps you can to harness the power of your brain’s ability to improve your memory.