Memory Improvement Tips and Tricks
As we get older, memories start to fade. Thoughts can become muddled or confused. Researchers have discovered that decline can start much sooner than many people expect. Some studies show it may begin as soon as puberty ends. The decline accelerates as we move through adulthood into our 40s, 50s and beyond.
In one study, reasoning scores for men and women declined by 3.6% for people from the age of 45 to 49. From the ages of 65 to 70, it dropped 9.6% for men and 7.4% for women. Those numbers become even more worrisome when you consider that with the advances in modern medicine, people are living longer than ever.
What good is living to your 80s, 90s or more, if you don't know what's happening in your life? Most people simply accept this decline as the inevitable result of aging, but you don't have to. There are several ways to fight back.
Boost your brain function by exercising early in the morning. Researchers with the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and The University of Western Australia found that 30 minutes of moderate exercise in the morning improved cognitive performance. Subjects were better at decision-making throughout the day compared to people who sat all day without exercise.
They were able to improve on those results. People who also took short 3-minute walking breaks every half hour had better short-term memory performance. Researchers believe the benefits came from the neurotrophic growth factor. That's a protein that helps maintain and grow information-transmitting neurons in the brain.
The fact is, almost any kind of regular exercise can improve memory recall. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, stimulating nerve cells to multiply and strengthen. Exercise also boosts naturally occurring chemical compounds in the body like dopamine and norepinephrine, which are known to improve memory consolidation.
In one study, people who exercised consistently for a year, grew and expanded their brains memory center by up to two percent. By comparison, non-exercisers saw a decline as they aged.
Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Sleep enhances memories through a process known as long-term potentiation. The connections in our brains are strengthened, recharging and sharpening us. Getting less than six hours a night can significantly impact your ability to think clearly the next day.
During the day, don't be afraid of taking a nap. Subjects were asked to memorize illustrated cards as part of a memory test, then half the group took a 40-minute nap while the other half remained awake. After the break, both groups were tested. The napping group had retained on average 85 percent of the patterns, while the ones that stayed awake only retained 60 percent.
Focus on one thing at a time. It's easy to think we can handle several tasks simultaneously, but the reality is we can't. Trying to do two things at once, will ultimately take you longer than doing each thing separately. Multitasking creates more errors and makes you more forgetful. You need about 8 seconds to commit something to memory. If you're rapidly flipping between two or three things, you might not be concentrating on the task you're doing long enough to remember it.
Feed your brain what it needs. Fruits like blueberries, strawberries and apples are loaded with brain-boosting antioxidants. Leafy greens like kale and spinach have phytonutrients like vitamin C that help reduce age-related memory decline.
Omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon, tuna, halibut and trout improve brain health. Also helpful are Omega 3's from flaxseed, kidney and pinto beans, broccoli and soybeans.
Avoid saturated fats from red meat, whole milk, butter and cheese. Those can increase your risk of dementia, while impairing concentration and memory.
Finally, reach out to friends. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people with the most active social lives have the slowest rate of memory decline. Get together for a regular game night, meet to workout, join a club or volunteer for a good cause.
You don't have to do everything at once, but you should choose something to start. The more things you do, the better your long-term prospects are.
Supplements for Brain Health
Notice our article doesn't say anything about taking supplements to improve the health of your brain? There's a good reason. There's no good evidence they work.
The Global Council on Brain Health had this to say.
More than a quarter of adults in the United States age 50 and older take at least one supplement for brain-health reasons. (26% according to the recent 2019 AARP Brain Health and Dietary Supplements Survey). Brain-health supplements generated $3 billion in sales globally in 2016 and are projected to reach $5.8 billion by 2023. It’s a massive waste of money. Despite adults’ wide-spread use of brain-health supplements, there appears to be little reason for it.
The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) is an independent collaborative of scientists, doctors, scholars and policy experts from all over the world brought together by AARP. After undertaking an evidence review of brain-health supplements’ potential effectiveness, the GCBH determined it could not endorse any ingredient, product or supplement formulation designed for brain health. Instead, the GCBH concluded that for most people, the best way to get your nutrients for brain health is from a healthy diet. Scientific evidence does not support the use of any supplement to prevent, slow, reverse, or stop cognitive decline or dementia or other related neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
For the small handful of dietary supplements that have been well-researched, the results showed no brain health benefit in people with normal nutrient levels. It’s unclear whether people with nutritional deficiencies can benefit their brains by taking a supplement, because the research is inconclusive. Therefore, beyond a few very specific nutrients taken to replace an identified deficiency, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of supplements to benefit the brain.
Beyond the lack of evidence of effectiveness for brain–health supplements, significant concerns exist about the truth of claims made in their marketing and about their potential lack of safety and purity. Because supplement manufacturers and distributors often make vague or exaggerated claims about brain health, and dietary supplements are sold without premarket governmental review of their safety and efficacy or the truthfulness of their claims, consumers should approach claims made on supplement packaging and in advertisement with skepticism. Unfortunately, supplement ingredients are not generally reviewed for purity and content by government agencies before they are allowed to be sold and the quality of the ingredients can vary widely. Some may contain ingredients that could even harm consumers.
The GCBH recommends consumers save their money and adopt healthy lifestyle habits instead.
Global Council on Brain Health (2019). "The Real Deal on Brain Health Supplements: GCBH Recommendations on Vitamins, Minerals, and Other Dietary Supplements." Available at www.GlobalCouncilOnBrainHealth.org
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