Boost Your Memory
by Dr. Gary Small, MD
Though we all forget things sometimes, there are steps that we can take in our daily lives to increase our memory. Not only can a better memory help us navigate through our days more easily, but doing things that are mentally challenging may protect us against Alzheimer’s.
Recent studies have found that older adults who spent more time in leisure activities that required more mental effort had less chance of getting Alzheimer’s, and animals that lived in mentally stimulating environments had bigger memory centers. You can also boost your own memory with small, doable changes.
Try these steps to help you improve your memory, maximize brain fitness and stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
1) Minimize stress
Stress is not good for memory or brain health: Studies have shown that animals under stress have fewer memory cells. So a program of stress reduction is very helpful to increase memory power and also improve physical health. You may want to try the following exercises to reduce stress:
* Take stress-reduction breaks throughout the day. You can do a two-minute stress reduction exercise, like deep breathing, a quick yoga stress or meditation. * Balance work and leisure. Take a typical day, and add up the number of hours you spend working and engaged in leisure activities. For some people, adding free time can help. * Get plenty of sleep. * Cut back on caffeine. * Exercise regularly. * Set realistic expectations. * Let yourself laugh.
2) Practice mental aerobics
Mental exercises are like jumping jacks for your brain. Try doing something mentally that solves a problem in a novel way, like brain teasers, crossword puzzles, word puzzles or visual puzzles. The key is to find something that you enjoy and find challenging, but that’s not too difficult and not too easy. As you get better over time, you can work your way up to more challenging puzzles.
3) Start a “Healthy Brain” diet
There are four components to this diet:
- Keep track of the number of calories that you eat. If you eat too much, you may become overweight, and that will increase your risk of illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Think about the fats that you eat. Fats that are good for the brain include omega-3 fats, olive oil, fish and walnuts. Avoid fats from animal products, like whole milk.
- Focus on foods high in antioxidants. Laboratory animals on this kind of diet show increased mental ability. Try eating foods high in vitamin C or E, like green leafy vegetables and fruits.
- Think about the carbs you eat. Instant or processed foods can spike your blood sugar, which can cause our brains to not function as well, and can increase your risk of diabetes.
4) Get active
Physical conditioning improves brain health, and recent studies show a link between physical activity and warding off Alzheimer’s. Try a program of regular aerobic exercise along with toning and stretching, which helps to avoid injury. Also choose sports and activities with low risk for head trauma. You can find an exercise program that’s right for you on the iVillage Diet and Fitness channel.
Boosting your memory long-term takes a commitment to changing your lifestyle. Besides continuing with the four steps to boost memory, try the following tips:
- If you still smoke, quit. If you drink alcohol, do it in moderation.
- Stay or get involved in activities that have personal meaning for you. Go out and socialize!
- If you become physically ill, take it seriously. See your doctor sooner rather than later.
- Get organized. Put commonly misplaced items in “memory” places – for instance, use a hook in the kitchen for your keys or put your glasses in the same location every day. Using a date book or organizer and creating daily routines can also help you remember things better.
Disclaimer: If you follow these steps and are still having trouble with your memory, consult your physician to rule out any medical causes, including Alzheimer’s disease or stroke.
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