One of the most important organs to take good care of is your brain. The ability to think clearly and to accurately remember events, words, or where you put your glasses, is a gift to actively nurture every day, especially with aging.
Noticing slight (or significant) changes in your own memory and cognitive skills or in a family or friend, is a reminder to begin now to ward off declining mental acuity and dementia. Fortunately, there are many strategies to adopt of basic lifestyle health habits and proven techniques keeping your mind, brain, and memory, razor-sharp thinking accurately and clearly.
Healthy habits for a healthier brain
Get more sleep
Most adults need a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night to help the body rest and for the brain to conduct important duties. Sleep is when your brain gathers and stores information you’ve learned in long-term memory. It’s during sleep when the brain’s glymphatic system flushes out waste produced by the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease-related toxins such as the protein amyloid-beta.
Eat a healthy diet
Food choices play an important role in brain health. Eating too many processed foods chock full of sugar and unhealthy fats are associated with poor cardiovascular health. What does cardiovascular health have to do with brain health? A healthy diet may help ward off chronic inflammation (which may fuel Alzheimer’s disease) and a type of cognitive decline that result from silent “mini” strokes. These strokes block blood flow to the brain without any symptoms, slowly killing off brain cells. Each time you have a “mini” stroke, the damage progressively accumulate in the brain. That’s why choosing foods of the Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower both cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon and albacore tuna. Specifically choose foods such as green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, bok choy, broccoli, Swiss chard), fruits (all berries), and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, walnuts).
Exercise most days of the week if not daily
Your body is meant to move; the kind of movement that gets your heart pumping and blood flowing. It’s been said if you could package exercise in a pill, it’d be one of the most valuable medications you can take. For brain health, regular, consistent exercise is crucial. Exercise promotes the release of a powerful molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which repairs brain cells, strengthens their connections, promotes new brain cell growth, and enlarges the size of your hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in the storage and retrieval of memory. It’s recommended to do aerobic exercise – walking, swimming, bicycling, hiking – at least 30 minutes at least five days a week, with your doctor’s approval.
Memorization techniques for a robust memory
Whether you’re studying for an exam, wanting to learn a new language, or hope to avoid embarrassing memory lapses, it’s important to stay mentally sharp. For a robust memory, all it takes is trying out new memorization techniques helping boost your memory for both the short and long term. Here are several of the best tips and tricks:
- Write it out: Writing appears to help you more deeply encode information than typing it out. When we are trying to learn or remember something, there is a direct connection between our hand and your brain
- Talk to yourself: It may sound funny, but talking to yourself about whatever you are trying to remember or memorize can be an effective memory tool. Try speaking aloud instead of simply rereading information. For instance, when you met someone for the first time, say the person’s name out loud. Say it aloud again later that day and even the next day to solidify that memory.
- Break strands of numbers or letters into chunks: For example, instead of 1214117563, think of 12-14-11-75-63.
- Write down appointments: You likely already are doing this but be sure to enter appointments into a calendar as soon as you make them, not later on when you are more apt to forget about it.
- Create acronyms: This is particularly helpful for remembering lists. For example, a grocery list of berries, apples, beans, chicken, almonds, and bread might be BABCAB.
- Create visual images: If you have many errands to remember, it helps to create a unique visual. For example if you have to go to the post office, buy groceries, and drop off clothes at the dry cleaner, imagine you are wearing all of the clothes all at once, pushing a grocery cart full of mail.
- Have a place for important items: How many of us have misplaced important everyday items such as car keys or glasses? What helps is to have a designated space or place for these types of important not-to-be-lost items. Stowing them in the same place every day will help lessen this possibility.
- Have pens and pads ready to jot down information: Whenever you need to write down something to remember, make sure you keep pads and pens in your kitchen, living and bedroom, and even in your car’s glove compartment.