If you’re like most people, you’ve experienced memory loss at some point in your life. From forgetting where you put something to not being immediately able to recall a person’s name, most of us have been there a time or two. However, as we age, more consistent and sometimes severe memory declines can begin to take hold — forcing the person experiencing them to alter their way of living to cope. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are among the age-related memory disorders that can have a debilitating effect on a person’s quality of life, and unfortunately, can also shorten that life.
But we don’t have to accept devastating memory problems as a fact of life as we get older. There’s plenty we can do right now to help maintain our memory function and enhance it. The even better news is that much of what we can do that will improve our memory and brain health is also good for the whole body — a win-win.
[See: Best Foods for Brain Health.]
Exercise consistently. Making daily physical activity a priority optimizes blood flow to the entire body, brain included. Adequate blood and oxygen supply to the brain helps keep our memories sharp. Studies have shown that physically active people have a lower risk of mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease. I often remind my patients that the brain loves movement. But not all exercise is created equal. Keep in mind, only moving your body may not confer maximum benefit when it comes to brain health. To get the most brain-boosting bang for your buck, aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of heart-pumping cardiovascular exercise most days a week. Some options include running, power walking, swimming and cycling. Of course, be sure to clear any new activity with your doctor before you begin.
Learn new things. Memory experts believe that advanced education helps keep a person’s memory healthy. Challenge your brain with mental exercise by learning new things. You don’t have to confine this learning to “formal education” inside a classroom either. Any new skill or way of doing something helps the brain grow. Scientists believe that challenging our minds with mental exercise can help maintain the health of brain cells and stimulate them to communicate better with each other — all essential processes for memory to function correctly.
Use your senses. Sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, which are unique in how they transmit information, all send signals to the brain via neural pathways. The brain then interprets those signals to help us make sense of the world around us. Scientists have long believed that the better we are at combining sensory information, the better we’ll remember what we’re learning or experiencing. Additionally, studies have shown that the more senses used when performing a task, the more likely the action will be committed to memory.
Sleep well. Though it might seem like a contrary concept, one of the most fundamental ways to keep your brain functioning correctly and sharply is to turn it off for seven to nine hours every day. Powering down on a nightly basis allows the brain to heal and restore itself, clearing toxins that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia types. Your brain does its essential “housekeeping” via memory consolidation during your body’s deep sleep state. For these reasons, a consistent lack of quality sleep can associate with a steeper memory decline as a person gets older. Prioritize quality sleep as you would a healthy diet and daily exercise.
Like your heart or lungs, your brain benefits from assessment, maintenance and training. There is plenty you can do to help keep it healthy and make it stronger. Whether it’s staving off memory decline or dementia concerns, or merely a desire to make the brain more efficient and adept at everyday activities, your brain is a powerhouse of health potential across the lifespan. Please remember to treat it accordingly.
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