Memory—our ability to store, retain and recall information—is essential to our daily lives. We refer to and rely upon memory, both consciously and unconsciously, innumerable times throughout the day. Many of us take for granted our memory’s capacity and our ability to recall information. But as we age, these powers diminish. It becomes difficult to remember even small details, regardless of whether they are crucial or trivial. A variety of factors can negatively impact the functioning of the brain’s memory center. Memory malfunction can range in severity from a minor, if annoying, memory lapse, to a much more serious case of dementia of even Alzheimer’s disease.
Environmental, psychological and emotional factors can all impact our memory, both positively and negatively. Stress and strain, for example, can have a significant effect on our ability to retain information. In stressful situations, our anxiety acts as a distraction that prevents the mind from functioning properly and retaining all it should. A lack of oxygen to the brain can cause it to temporarily malfunction, and can lead to long-term memory deficits. Poor diet and obesity, a lack of exercise or physical activity, and the presence of environmental toxins in the air we breathe are just a few more external factors which can negatively impact memory. As such, keeping the body adequately nourished and in a healthy state is one of the most effective ways to maintain and improve memory.
A UCLA research study published in the June 2006 issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that people can improve their cognitive function and brain efficiency through simple lifestyle changes, such as eating healthily and incorporating physical activity, stress relief and memory exercises into their daily lives. We suggest the following activities, exercises and supplements for peak memory function.
Exercise Your Way to Good Memory
Brain experts have long assumed that what’s best for the body is best for the brain—and we all know that regular exercise is one of the best things we can do to improve our physical health and well-being. Exercise is in fact proven to increase levels of brain chemicals that encourage the growth of nerve cells and improve memory. Regular exercise helps your brain by promoting the production of new nerve cells, strengthening neural synapses and increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
The human brain has the incredible ability to continually adapt and rewire itself. Even in old age, it can grow new neurons. Severe, abrupt mental decline is usually caused by disease, whereas most age-related losses in memory or motor skills simply result from inactivity and a lack of mental stimulation. To put it in laymen’s terms, when it comes to the brain, you use it or lose it.
Successful studies on the aging brain have consistently shown that higher levels of physical activity are correlated with better brain aging. And exercise has also emerged as a factor that may prevent (or at least delay) the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Based on exercise and health data from nearly 5,000 men and women over 65 years of age, those who exercised were less likely to lose their mental abilities or develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
Walking is an easy way to do a world of good for your brain. Walking increases blood circulation, so that as you walk, you effectively oxygenate your brain. Maybe this is why walking is said to clear one’s head in times of duress.
Simple Brain Exercises
Below are simple daily exercises that can strengthen preexisting neural connections and may even create new ones:
- Use your non-dominant hand in everyday activities. To control the computer mouse, brush your teeth, dial the phone, operate the remote, eat and even write.
- Dress yourself with your eyes closed.
- Wash your hair with your eyes closed.
- Take a new route to work.
- Learn a new language.
- Play games like chess, Sudoku, and crossword puzzles.
Eat Your Way to Good Memory
Eating brain-healthy foods may help to prevent age-related memory loss. Substances that are rich in antioxidants, B-complex vitamins, folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids are shown to improve and enhance memory. Foods like lean meat, fish, legumes, dairy products, grains, leafy vegetables, blueberries and cranberries are among those suspected to enhance memory and may even play a role in the development of new brain cells—not to mention that these foods are naturally delicious.
The following nutritional supplements may improve memory:
- Antioxidants: Vitamin E (400 to 800 IU per day), vitamin C (1,000 mg three times per day) and coenzyme Q10 (10 to 50 mg three times per day).
- Vitamins: Biotin (300 mcg), B1 (50 to 100 mg), B2 (50 mg), B6 (50 to 100 mg), B12 (100 to 1,000 mcg) and folic acid (5 mcg).
- Phosphatidylserine (PS). Low levels of phosphatidylserine in the brain are associated with impaired mental function and depression in the elderly. Supplementation of PS consistently benefits memory, learning, concentration, word choice and other measurable cognition parameters, as well as mood and the capacity to cope with stress. PS encourages the regrowth of damaged nerve networks.
- Zinc: Zinc deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the elderly and has been suggested to be a major factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Herbs for Brain Health
The following herbs have been demonstrated to improve memory:
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Demonstrates antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in the laboratory, boosts stress tolerance.
- Brahmi (Herpestis monniera): Improves motor skills and enhances the ability to learn and retain information.
- Shankha pushpin (Convolvulus pluricaulis): Increases memory power.
- Ginkgo biloba: Widely used in naturopathy for treating Alzheimer’s disease. It improves blood flow in the brain and contains flavonoids that act as antioxidants. Ginkgo may improve thinking, learning, and memory in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Resveratrol: A flavonoid found in red wine and grape juice. It is an antioxidant that may benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Preventing Memory Loss
The following tips will help you to prevent eventual memory lapse or loss:
- Maintain a low-fat diet. Make sure to reduce your intake of linoleic acid, found in margarine, butter, and other dairy products.
- Eat cold-water fish (like tuna, salmon, and mackerel) 2-3 times per week. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which promote brain health and stability.
- Increase your intake of antioxidants like carotenoids, vitamin E and vitamin C by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a normal, stable blood pressure.
- Practice yoga. The regular practice of yoga asanas—particularly inverted postures like Sirasasana and Sarvangasana—has been proven to improve blood flow in the brain, and in turn improve thinking, learning, and memory.
- Avoid exposure to aluminum. Aluminum can be found in drinking water, processed cheese, baking powder, antacids, anti-diarrheal medicines, antiperspirants, and even foods cooked in aluminum pots and coffee made in aluminum percolators. Aluminum cans and aluminum-coated wax containers can also transfer significant amounts of aluminum to the beverages contained in them.
- Maintain an active mental and social life. Keeping mentally and socially active may help delay the onset dementia.