As we age, there are proven strategies for nurturing 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. This is called neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change, grow and improve, as well as to hone it’s memory function.
Brains need the proper stimulants to stay well-tuned however. 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, inadequate exercise and stress for instance, do not make for a healthy brain. As we know, boosting brain and memory health can also help stave off the onset and/or progression of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
10 Habits that help Improve Your Memory
- Diet & nutrition. The old adage “you are what you eat” is true. The foods you eat and don't eat play a crucial role in memory health. A diet that includes fresh, versus processed foods is best for the brain, as well as one that is low in sugar and high in healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids/fish oils, extra-virgin olive oils, and coconut oil. Clinical studies have actually shown that fresh leafy greens and vegetables can help fuel memory power.
- The Mediterranean diet has long been linked to helping prevent cognitive decline and improving memory. More recently, the 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, seem to improve brain function, memory, and concentration. Foods rich in Lutein (a type of vitamin that is related to beta-carotene and vitamin A) such as kale and spinach, avocados, and eggs may also counter cognitive aging and memory loss. Celery, broccoli, and cauliflower contain antioxidants that protect brain health and may actually stimulate production of new brain cells.
- If you love Indian and Moroccan food, you’ll be happy to know that curry and cinnamon are two spices that are associated with memory improvement. Moderate amounts of caffeine also seem to reverse memory impairment. If you are averse to coffee and caffeine, try peppermint tea which has proven to improve long-term and working memory. Another great memory food of course is chocolate! Yes, chocolate has been found to enhance memory and visual information processing.
- Exercise. Healthy body, healthy mind, as they say. If you want your memory to stay fit, you need to stay active and keep your body fit. There are many exercises for seniors that improve memory, and brain power. Exercise increases oxygen levels to the brain and can trigger helpful brain chemicals. It also decreases stress and can promote good sleep. Studies have indicated that aerobic activity and resistance training may actually boost brain power and memory in people over the age of 50.
- Exercise makes for improved blood flow to your brain which we know enhances cognitive function. A good workout can actually encourage nerve cells to multiply and strengthen their performance. One year-long study showed that individuals who engaged in exercise were actually growing and expanding the brain's memory center one to two percent per year.
- Doctors recommend exercising at least three times a week. Start with 20-minute walks and build stamina slowly. Expand your exercise program to include longer walks, stretching, core strengthening exercises, and light weight training.
- Sleep. Scientists say that while we sleep our bodies optimize and consolidate newly acquired information and store it as memory. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night for optimum physical and mental health. A good night’s sleep is one of the simplest things we can do to improve information retention and memory power. A single night of sleep deprivation (only four to six hours of sleep) can impact our ability to think clearly the next day. Sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s disease have even been shown to be correlated. Two-three consecutive nights of insufficient sleep and our brains are mush!
- Napping. I am a huge fan of napping. And now I have the perfect excuse -- research has found that adults 65 and older who took an hour-long nap in the afternoon, and improved their performance on cognitive tests.
- Brain games. Just as 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. By providing your brain with the appropriate stimulus you can counter degeneration and memory loss. Stimulating brain games for seniors promote cognitive health and a strengthened memory. Entire websites are devoted to brain games, but you can also do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku every day. Almost every newspaper is chock full of brain puzzles.
- Card and board games. Whether it’s a simple game of Go Fish or Gin Rummy, or a challenging game of bridge, card games require that you count and calculate and think. MahJong, Scrabble, chess and checkers are all games that exercise the memory muscles.
- Reading. Reading is one of the easiest ways to stimulate your brain. It can be interesting, enjoyable, informative, and requires that you connect the dots. Reading may help promote longevity, as one study has shown. And today, reading material is merely a click away. Magazines, newspapers, and books are all accessible today via your favorite digital device or computer. I still prefer to hold a book and newspaper in my hand, but regardless of how you read, incorporate it into your daily routine. Make a habit of sharing what you’ve read with family and friends every day and it will also help fine tune your memory bank.
- Master a new skill. Learn to play a musical instrument; take an online art class and learn to dabble with canvas and watercolor paints. 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. Needlepoint, knitting, woodworking and other DIY projects can all be learned. The key is to find an activity that is stimulating and enjoyable for you. What is a new skill that requires focus and attention and makes you happy? An activity that you look forward to doing?
- Dancing. The impact of dance on cognitive health is significant. It’s fun, good exercise, social, and it can require hand-body coordination, as well as memory through remembering the steps and moves. It can also be a great antidepressant and antidote for stress. You can dance in the privacy of your own home or engage with others; take a ballroom dance class! Dancing is good for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
- Relaxation and stress management. Learning to relax by de-stressing and meditating are clinically proven ways to improve your memory. When we’re calm, we think more clearly, we retain information better and remember more. When we’re stressed and agitated we tend to be more forgetful and make mistakes. Being calm makes for mental clarity.
- Just 25 minutes a day of mindfulness exercises, mediation, or gentle yoga have been found to have a positive effect on mood and to boost brain function. One study showed that daily meditation strengthened the brain’s cerebral cortex which is responsible for decision making, attention, and memory.
- Listening to music is also an effective strategy for relieving stress and reversing early memory loss in older adults. Stop and smell the roses, calm your nerves and relax; your memory will be the beneficiary.
How to Continually Improve Memory Power
A healthy, nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, sleeping well, stress management, and keeping your brain stimulated will enhance your memory power. Our daily habits can truly influence how well our brains work, including our memory function. They can also help stave off dementia, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases. So, take the necessary steps we’ve outlined here to keep your brain activated which will in turn mean much more memory power.