April 21, 2020
Perhaps you forgot the name of an acquaintance or where you put your car keys. As people age, occasional memory lapses are not uncommon, and while a bit disconcerting, are usually not cause for worry.
Although there are no guaranteed ways to prevent memory loss or dementia, consider these four fairly simple actions to boost your brain health.
Including physical activity in your daily routine is the most important action you can take to help keep your memory sharp.
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes (30 minutes 5 times a week) of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking and bicycling, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging. If you don’t have time for 30-minute walks, try to squeeze in a few 10-minute walks throughout the day.
For aerobic exercise to help your brain, you want to elevate your heart rate and increase blood flow. Strive to walk/move fast enough to find yourself a little out of breath if you’re having a conversation.
Eat a Healthy Diet
You may think of healthy eating as being good for your heart and waistline, but it’s also very important for your brain.
The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet takes two proven diets and focuses on foods that specifically affects brain health. While more research is needed, an early study funded by the National Institute on Aging found the MIND diet lowered Alzheimer's risk by about 35% for people who followed it moderately well, and up to 53% for those who adhered to it rigorously.
The MIND diet encourages eating vegetables (especially leaf green vegetables), nuts, berries and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources, such as fish, beans/legumes, and skinless poultry. Limit red and processed meat, butter, regular cheese, sweets, and fried and fast foods.
Stay Mentally Active
Keep learning. Keep socializing. Mentally stimulating activities keep your brain in shape; just as physical activity keeps your body in shape.
Try to engage in new learning activities—things you haven’t already mastered. Learn a language. Explore a kind of reading material that you haven’t in the past. Take lessons on a musical instrument you always wanted to play.
Social interaction makes you feel good and helps prevent depression and stress, which can contribute to memory loss. Get together with loved ones and friends. Volunteer with a local community group. Join a club.
Sleep plays an important role in your overall health, including your brain health. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Sleep allows your brain to process information from the day and form memories.
Recent research finds that sleep also triggers a kind of “cleansing system” in the brain that removes waste and toxic protein plaques associated with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive impairments.
Here are a few tips for getting a better night’s sleep:
- Limit the amount of screen time prior to going to sleep. The blue light from your smart phone, tablet, laptop and other screens tells your brain to stop producing melatonin (a sleep hormone).
- Avoid taking long naps that may disrupt your nighttime sleep cycle.
- Monitor your intake of caffeine and alcohol—both of these can cause wakefulness.
- Create a soothing ritual for yourself prior to sleep, such as taking a bath, reading a book, or meditating.
Concerned About Memory Loss?
If you are concerned that memory loss is impacting your daily activities or is getting progressively worse, talk with your primary care physician. He or she may recommend memory testing with a neuropsychologist or other healthcare professional.
Regular check-ups can also help you better manage conditions like depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, that may play a role in memory loss.