Exercising Our Brains: 12 Easy Things to Do to Help Prevent Memory Loss
We don’t necessarily think about memory loss until it hits us. That said, it’s never too late to focus on prevention.
This post outlines 12 simple strategies to help prevent memory loss and maintain a healthy mind. Here are some strategies to boost your brainpower:
- Get just enough sleep.
- While it’s important to meet your sleep quota, you should also avoid snoozing for too long.1 There’s an ideal amount of rest that’s considered “just right” for our mental faculties.
- Research touted as the world’s largest sleep study indicates that seven to eight hours of sleep on average is ideal.1 Of the 40,000 global participants, those who fell in this range performed better on reasoning, verbal, and memory-based tests.1
- “Look, snap, connect.”
- Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center, believes we can improve our memory by way of simple tactics like the “look, snap, connect” technique.2
- Here’s how it works: First, focus your attention inward. Quiet your mind. Then, create a snapshot of the information you hope to retain. Next, make visual associations for your mental snapshot. Aim for a conscious connection, as this will promote better recall.
- Stick to your routines and habits.
- Healthy habits free up valuable mental space, allowing even those who struggle with their memory to complete tasks such as brushing their teeth or looking both ways before crossing the street on a consistent basis.3
- In this way, habits help to prevent memory loss because the tasks they involve become ingrained.3 For example, people with dementia can rely on the habits they’ve picked up to remember important behaviors and interact more easily with others.3
- Eat a healthful diet.
- We’ve touched on the link between mental sharpness and diet in a previous post. However, wholesome eating really is crucial to our mind and memory.4
- Studies show that a Mediterranean diet, for instance—filled with unsaturated fats like olive oil, heart-healthy nuts, fresh fish, and colorful produce—can strengthen our mental faculties.4 (If you don’t want to limit yourself to this approach, the ketogenic, Atkins®, Whole30®, and Paleolithic diets are solid alternatives.) Before starting any diet, please consult your healthcare practitioner.
- Determine whether you’re low on iron.
- Iron deficiency—the most common nutrient deficiency—affects 2 billion people worldwide.5 It’s also linked to memory loss, as iron is largely responsible for the neurotransmitters in charge of recall.5 Ultimately, if you don’t consume enough iron, those neurotransmitters might not be working at their full capacity.5
- This brings us back to the importance of healthy eating. To prevent memory loss, consider adding iron-rich items including spinach, broccoli, turkey, beef, cashews, chickpeas, and oysters to your grocery list.6
- Start taking vitamins.
- Certain vitamins and herbal supplements are known to support brain health, and therefore memory.7 For instance, vitamin E may support healthy aging and cognitive function, while the herbal supplement ginkgo biloba has been shown in studies to increase blood flow to the brain.7
- Omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with memory.7 Fish oil is an appealing option that includes DHA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid linked to brain development and function.8
- Reevaluate your prescription medications with your prescribing MD.
- If you’ve noticed a sudden change in your memory, take stock of your medicine cabinet. Memory loss is an unfortunate side effect of certain antidepressants, antihistamines, antianxiety medications, muscle relaxants, pain medications, and sleeping pills, among other drugs.9
- While this may sound alarming, there’s no need to worry outright. Please first make an appointment to discuss with your prescribing MD before discontinuing or adjusting any prescription medications.
- Keep active (and add strength training to your exercise routine.)
- Time and time again, we’ve urged readers to engage in regular exercise. Even 30 minutes of exercise just five days per week can sharpen the mind.10
- While everything from spin class to gardening constitutes a workout and delivers nutrients to the brain, research shows strength training can boost our cognitive executive function and memory.11 So think about lifting weights the next time you hit the gym.
- Train your brain.
- Looking to prevent memory loss? Challenge your mind.10 (Don’t overdo it, though. You still need to make time to relax—a key factor in allowing the brain to recharge after intense stimulation.)
- Note that training your brain doesn’t have to feel like a chore. Fulfilling social interactions, games and puzzles like Scrabble® and Sudoku, and even language or music classes can help to keep your mental faculties in check.10
- Avoid heavy multitasking.
- Do you exercise in front of the TV, work while listening to music, or cook with a podcast blaring in the background? Some people take pride in multitasking, but research shows the practice doesn’t do much for our mind and memory.12
- According to Anthony Wagner, professor of psychology and director of the Stanford Memory Laboratory, our brains aren’t actually capable of multitasking.12 Rather, they “task switch,” or go back and forth between each of the tasks we’re engaged in. To retain information more effectively, we need to limit distractions and focus on just one thing at a time.13
- Engage in stress reduction techniques.
- Higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, it turns out, increase a person’s risk of memory loss and brain shrinkage.14 Stress can even affect the structure of the brain, as high levels of cortisol are associated with more damage to the corona radiate and the corpus callosum, the parts of the brain responsible for moving information.14
- Some solutions: Eat well, practice yoga, meditate, and spend time in nature—these are just some of the stress reduction techniques you might consider to prevent memory loss. (An added bonus: These tactics will also improve your mood and overall wellbeing.)14
- Don’t be afraid to consult a doctor.
- If you’ve tried these strategies and are still facing memory challenges, do not hesitate to consult a doctor. Make an appointment with your primary care physician, ask for a referral if needed, and enjoy expert help and support.
- Preidt R. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20181011/what-the-right-amount-of-sleep. Accessed March 8, 2019.
- U Magazine Staff. UCLA Newsroom. http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/healthy-lifestyle-healthy-memory. Accessed March 8, 2019.
- Williams ME. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-art-and-science-aging-well/201612/how-habits-can-affect-our-memory. Accessed March 8, 2019.
- Harvard Medical School Staff. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/12-ways-to-keep-your-brain-young. Accessed March 8, 2019.
- Fretham SJ et al. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.). 2011;2(2):112-21.
- WebMD Staff. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/iron-rich-foods#1. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Ashpari Z. et al. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/deep-sleep#benefits. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Stuart A. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/what-to-know-about-omega-3s-and-fish#1. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- WebMD Staff. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/brain/memory-loss#1. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Gadwa R. Michigan Health. https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/brain-health/5-ways-to-protect-your-memory-from-dementia. Accessed March 8, 2019.
- Gupta S. CNN Health. http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/16/strength-training-key-in-preventing-alzheimers. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Bates S. Stanford News. https://news.stanford.edu/2018/10/25/decade-data-reveals-heavy-multitaskers-reduced-memory-psychologist-says. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/memory-loss/art-20046518. Accessed March 8, 2019.
- LaMotte S. CNN Health. https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/24/health/stress-memory-loss-under-50-study/index.html. Accessed March 11, 2019.
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