Don’t you hate it when you forget the name of a long time client? Or worse, you forget to have your attorney sign a court pleading, or come dangerously close to missing a statute of limitations?
Unfortunately, the area of the brain responsible for memory loses five percent of its nerve cells every 10 years. And aging reduces the body’s ability to produce acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter critical for learning and memory.
Although there’s really no getting around the eventual decline of memory, research has shown that through neuroplasticity, the brain of an adult is still able to form new memory-building neural networks. So it’s never too late to work on improving your memory.
Here are six ways that you can help keep your memory as sharp as possible:
Learn a new skill
Dr. Denise Park, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas gave a group of 200 seniors a task that was either high or low difficulty. After the groups spent 15 hours a week for three months learning the new skills, participants engaged in more challenging activities had significant memory gains. “The study concluded that “Sustained engagement in cognitively demanding activities facilitated cognition by increasing neural efficiency.”
Challenge your brain with games
A Cambridge University study from earlier this year found that a video game focused on training the brain boosted memory and reduced the risk of dementia. Puzzle games like Sudoku and crosswords can also to improve memory and reduce brain decline, although experts aren’t sure exactly how.
One of the best ways to improve memory by playing games is with activities that your brain isn’t used to performing. The highly regarded MacArthur study came up with the guiding principle “Use it or lose it” to encourage people to exercise their brains to keep them sharp.
Try out meditation
Research conducted by centers at Harvard Medical School studied the effects of meditating on retaining information, working with participants who had no previous experience with meditation.
After just two months, subjects showed enhanced mental abilities, including rapid memory recall: “Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”
Meditation may also result in long-term and beneficial changes in brain function regarding emotional response.
Choose your foods wisely
Experts at Harvard Medical School also make a strong connection between diet and memory and recommend foods associated with the Mediterranean diet. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil help improve the health of blood vessels, which in turn reduces the risk for a memory-damaging stroke.
A 2012 study in the Annals of Neurology found that women who ate the most saturated fats performed more poorly on thinking and memory tests than women who ate the smallest amounts of these types of fats. This relationship may be due to apolipoprotein E (APOE), the gene associated with the amount of cholesterol in the blood. About 65 percent of those with this gene wind up with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease when they reach their 60s and 70s.
Exercise increases the heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain, and helps the body release hormones that help provide a healthy environment for brain cells to grow in.
Studies have shown that regular exercise can improve the memory recall of the human brain, and fitness in older adults has been proven to slow the decline of memory, even after the routine has lapsed. Regular exercise also improves spatial memory and increases cognitive abilities that extend beyond memory.
Get a good night’s sleep
We know, it’s easier said than done. But a good night’s sleep does more than help you to feel well rested. It also triggers changes in the brain that help to enhance memory. According to the National Sleep Foundation, one in five people in the U.S. are believed to suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, which can lead to issues such as obesity, cardiovascular issues, and memory problems.
Sleeplessness also interferes with communication between the hippocampus and the brain’s network for transferring information from one region to another. Even during a brief nap, the human brain consolidates memories and improves memory recall.
How do you try to improve your memory? Tell us about them in the comments!