Is it possible to improve memory and brain function? There are vital elements to get a good memory working in your favor!
Do I forget things? Have I lost my mind? These possibilities have always been a bit of a hot topic in our home. With a family history of dementia and Alzheimers Disease, I’ve realized the burden of care will likely fall on my shoulders. Because of that possibility, studying what can help or hurt our memory is a side interest of mine.
For three years, my father-in-law lived with us as we cared for him, and his slowly declining cognitive skills. In some ways, it was like having another child because he needed help with everything. Part of me cherishes those years and the lessons we learned about compassion and kindness as our children helped grandpa with the simplest of tasks.
While preventing some forms of this challenging disease are still in the future, there are things we can do today to improve our memory and brain function.
How to Give Your Memory a Workout
Information in your brain is collected, stored, and retrieved by neural pathways. These pathways are responsible for you being able to solve problems, remember familiar faces and tasks, without exerting a ton of effort.
Millions of these neural pathways begin developing from the time of infancy. To keep our memory healthy, we need to create new pathways continually. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
As we age, our lifestyles often change, keeping those pathways from being developed. Two frequent changes are a decrease in exercise and less attention to our diet. These two combined affect our brain and memory.
Sticking with our regular and familiar habits doesn’t challenge our memory. Our brain requires consistent stimulation, regardless of our age, and looking for ways to spur the production of new pathways is critical.
Just like your physical muscles need to be used in different ways to make them stronger, our brain needs change to help challenge its abilities. There are some simple things you can do to stimulate this production of new pathways.
1. Try Something New. Take a new way home from the mall or grocery store. Pick up a new hobby or try a new form of exercise. I picked up yoga a few years ago and it has been a great way to challenge my physical balance and coordination.
Go to a museum, stroll through an art gallery, or take a hike in the mountains. Challenge your brain with puzzles, sports, a new language, or learning how to play an instrument.
Anything different and new can stimulate your brain and memory. The best activities are the ones outside of your comfort zone, pushing you as you develop new neural pathways. The effort involved in learning and committing to memory a new skill, with new terms and language is a great way to exercise your brain.
2. Use Your Brain. Your memory is one of those things that you need to use regularly, or you run the risk of losing it. Run through exercises to help you recall new and older events. Share life stories to family or friends, explain a process to a co-worker, or challenge yourself by doing something you haven’t done in a while.
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3. Hand-Eye Coordination. Any type of activity that uses your hands is a great way to sharpen your memory. Playing a musical instrument, doing needlework, even putting together a jigsaw puzzle is a great way to get your brain working more effectively.
When considering your options for giving your memory a workout, be sure to choose something fun. You want to enjoy the challenge and stimulation from learning. If you dread spending time working on your memory, it defeats the purpose.
How Food Affects Your Memory
How many times have you heard, “you are what you eat?” If you eat lots of greasy or sugary foods it eventually shows up as fat and you gain weight. When it comes to your memory, the foods you eat play an important factor in how your memory functions.
I remember my mother telling me to eat all my veggies so I would do well in school. Did your mom tell you that too? Well, they were right!
Eating an adequate amount of vegetables will help improve your memory. The best ones to eat are those dark, leafy green ones such as kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and collard greens.
If you aren’t a fan, try eating them in your salad or pop them into your green smoothie. I love blending 2 cups of greens, 1 banana, 1/2 C. Frozen berries and about 1 cup of water so it’s not too thick. Add some spirulina and protein powder and you’ve got a tasty smoothie filled with brain-boosting power.
In addition to green veggies, you’ll want to increase the number of berries in your diet. Fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, and cherries contain something called anthocyanins (another memory-boosting element).
Omega 3 fatty acids also impact your brain and memory. These fatty acids contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which has been shown to improve memory, especially in young adults.
The higher your levels are of this fatty acid the more efficiently your brain will function.
Your best sources of DHA can be found in seafood, algae (spirulina), fish oil and in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and herrings. Walnuts and chickpeas are also full of Omega 3 fatty acids.
We’ve recently added a little more celery to our diet. It contains luteolin which reduces inflammation in your brain and helps reduce memory loss related to the aging process.
An added benefit of eating these foods is not just to improve your memory. You are also improving the health of your heart and this can help you live a longer, happier life.
Easy Tips for Maintaining Memory Function
Your brain is a powerful tool, and it has an amazing ability to adapt and change, regardless of your age. This ability to adapt is known as neuroplasticity. Harnessing this natural process increases your cognitive skills, and improves both your memory and learning abilities.
Sleep helps your memory open up new pathways. Getting enough sleep helps these pathways work at an optimal performance level.
Many older people who reported having a lousy memory started exercising regularly. After a short time, they found improvement in their cognitive ability.
According to a Harvard research study, people who had active social lives encountered the slowest rate of memory decline.
Not sure what to laugh about? Try laughing at yourself by not taking life so seriously. Find people who are fun and hang out with them. Watch your favorite comedy and let the giggles flow.
Takeaways to Improve Brain Function and Memory
Working on creating a healthy lifestyle is the biggest thing we can do to improve our memory and brain function. Eating right, exercising, making time to be with your friends and family, and trying new things are all wise choices.
There are lots of websites and books full of information to challenge your memory. I’ve listed some in the resources below. For me, it feels better being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to my mind. Some things just can’t be undone and I’d hate memory loss is one of them.
What has helped improve your memory?
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How to Improve Memory and Brain Function
- Alzheimer’s Association – Brain Health
- The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline by Dale Bredesen (2017).
- The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge (2007).