by Dr. Julie Schwartzbard, MD
Your memory is like most brain functions in that it needs the right support to perform well. Sometimes, just one or two of the simplest steps can make an exponential difference. This applies both to how well you make memories from information, and how easy it is for you to retrieve that information later when you need to recall it. Having a sharper memory now can make your life easier and more rewarding every day, but it can also improve your quality of life as you get older.
Factors that improve memory
Exercise and other physical activity can make a difference in your memory because it’s good for your heart and helps get oxygenated blood into the brain. Exercise is good for your hard-working lungs — studies show clearly that people with good lung function retain strong mental acuity and memory function well into in old age. Exercising regularly also reduces your risk for conditions linked to memory loss, like diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.
Every time you do a word puzzle or take a class you’re improving your memory, and this is especially true as you get older. While people with higher levels of education tend to have better memory, it’s far more important to enjoy learning new things and to make an effort to keep doing it. You can hone your memory by reading regularly, keeping up with current affairs, trying out a new hobby, and playing all kinds of challenging games.
Keep your memory sharper by seeking out regular social experiences — especially new ones. Healthy love relationships, marriages and partnerships encourage good brain function too.
A good diet helps you keep your memory strong — it’s as simple as that. The Mediterranean-style diet, in particular, provides your body with key raw materials to feed healthy brain function. Try to avoid saturated fats in meat and dairy products, eat fish three times a week (but not fried), and consume more vegetables and fruit. Among vegetables, leafy greens have the tightest link to reducing declines in cognition and memory function.
Specific vitamins, nutrients and co-factors provide raw “building block” materials for all your cells, while helping fuel and protect the brain. Antioxidants like quercetin and vitamins like C and beta carotene can benefit memory by neutralizing the free radicals which feed inflammation. One of the newest inflammation fighters is curcumin, a spice from the turmeric plant. Vitamin D is important for memory because it manages calcium in brain cells, and regulates cell death and growth. Increased doses of supplemental vitamin D can improve the way the brain manages key signaling chemicals involved in memory formation and retrieval, according to a new animal study. Today it’s possible to get these key ingredients in a single supplement.
Sleep is so important to memory, especially the consolidation of information, that after just one night of sleep, people perform better no matter what they’re doing — school, work, sports or playing a musical nstrument. Even a nap makes a difference. In general, it’s the quality of the sleep that matters most, not the amount.
Some research suggests that under certain conditions, stress chemicals can enhance memory consolidation, a key stage in the remembering process. However, reducing negative stressors is still a good idea because it may decrease forgetfulness.
No one is on the fence about smoking and memory because the evidence against smoking is so strong. Smokers can’t remember names and faces as well as non-smokers. Non-smokers also tend to have less depression, which is a big risk factor for memory problems.
If you skip the step of writing down what you want to remember, you increase your risk of forgetting at least part of what you want to recall. If you can get in the habit of being a list maker, it can help you remember multiple things. Of course you have to remember to take the list and use it.
You can choose any — or all — of the above to begin supporting healthy memory today. Take action to improve and enhance your memory using targeted nutrition with our exclusive Memory Solutions.
Memory changes in Older Adults. 11 June, 2006. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/research/action/memory-changes.aspx. Accessed November 1, 2014. Berkley, C, Chang, L. Is Your Memory Normal? WEB MD website. Available at http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/features/is-your-memory-normal. Accessed November 1, 2014
Nicholson, C. Memory Improves with Sleep. 15 April, 2013. Scientific American. http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/memory-improves-with-sleep-13-04-15/. Accessed November 1, 2014.
Lourida I. et al. Mediterranean diet, cognitive function, and dementia: a systematic review. Epidemiology. 2013 Jul;24(4):479-89. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e3182944410. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23680940. Accessed November 1, 2014.
Reynolds, G. Getting a Brain Boost Through Exercise. The New York Times. 10 April, 2013. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/how-exercise-may-boost-the-brain/. Accessed November 1, 2014.
7 Ways to keep your memory sharp at any age. 2 March, 2010. Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/7-ways-to-keep-your-memory-sharp-at-any-age. Accessed November 1, 2014.