Life has changed in the last several months. Most of us are staying in isolation, working from home. One of the few positive factors is the extra time we have on our hands. Let’s not waste this opportunity and try to better ourselves. Let’s look at what can be done to positively impact our free time.
Let’s start at the top. As people get older and wiser, they realize the need to prevent memory loss that comes with aging. It is not inevitable. Memory is a precious resource on which we rely to navigate our careers, relationships, and day-to-day life. Preserving your brain matter is something you should care about no matter how old you are. A study showed that the volume of our brain declines with age, at a rate of about 5% per decade after age 40. Our working memory – the ability to hold a piece of information in mind, such as a phone number, password, or the location of a parked car, declines starting as early as age 30.
There are a few habits you can develop to slow down or even reverse the downturn.
Nourish your brain with healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and adequate vitamins and minerals. Consuming too little of these foods and too many simple carbohydrates, processed meats, rich in trans fats and saturated fat, potatoes/starchy food and unhealthy snacks may be associated with dementia risk many years later.
Here is a list of foods that help boost memory:
- Leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli
- Salmon, anchovies, sardines, and other cold-water fish
- Berries, especially blueberries, and dark-skinned fruits
- Coffee and dark chocolate
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil
- Spices, like turmeric
- Seeds, especially pumpkin seeds, and nuts
- Green tea
For example, the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes a high intake of plant foods and low consumption of meat and dairy, as well as the DASH and Mediterranean Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diets ― which promotes intake of berries, green leafy vegetables, and other plant-based foods and limits consumption of saturated fat and animal food, are associated with lower risk for cognitive impairment.
Following a more diverse diet may be particularly favorable.
How foods are consumed (and not only the quantity consumed) may be important for memory preservation also. A recent study points to poor eating habits of charcuterie (delicatessen, ready-to-eat food products, cold cuts, etc.) and snacking.
Check your pantry and refrigerator for the “wrong” foods, eat regular meals, and avoid snacking!
Meditate: Mindfulness training may keep the mind focused on the present moment, filtering out competing theories and/or memories. Meditation results in an increase in the size of the hippocampus, one of the brain’s key memory systems.
Spent at least 15 minutes a day on training your awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective by meditating! If you do not know how to practice meditation or have not done it yet, it is time to start. It will also help to get thru the stress of isolation and quarantine.
Brain games: Don’t just watch TV or surf the internet; instead play brain games. Playing memory stimulating computerized cognitive training games for 15 minutes per day, like Luminosity, BrainHQ and others stimulate attention, processing speed, visual memory and executive functions.
Don’t forget chess, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, memory games, and visual recognition tasks that also boost memory, improve reasoning and attention.
Learning new skills or a new language are also cognitively stimulating activities that can help you avoid cognitive decline.
Stimulate your brain!
Physical activities: It’s better to combine different exercises. Bursts of intense cardio will boost your short-term memory. Long-term endurance exercise, like running and cycling will improve and maintain memory processing.
Low intensity exercise, like yoga and Tai Chi also show potential to enhance cognitive function, particularly in the realm of executive functioning and in those individuals without significant impairment.
Combined cognitive and physical training, whether simultaneous or subsequent, will produce better benefits compared to cognitive or physical training alone.
Dancing is a great example, combining coordination and aerobic fitness and has shown to significantly improve performance in cognition/attention (memory, visual-spatial ability, language, and attention), reaction times, sensory-motor performance, posture and lifestyle. You can start taking dance lessons following YouTube instructions. And, as proven in the video below, there is no age limit with dancing!
Exercise your muscles to improve your brain!
Focus on key information: Episodic memory is not only about recalling the specific details of a past event, but rather taking what you learned from that experience and using it in the future. If you have trouble retaining first-time information, like when you meet someone, practice mindful awareness by focusing on the name’s sounds, associations, mental cues. Using the name as an example, if you’re having trouble recalling it, try recalling other facts about the person – where they live, their hobbies, if they have children. When you learn information that you’ll want to use later, make a mental link of it. For instance, if you want to recall an article you read, focus on a keyword or phrase in the title, or a picture that goes with the context.
Focus on key facts: Harness episodic memory! Don’t go for a full recall of an event or conversation.
Practice retelling the newly learned information to your friends and family members, keeping yourself and them engaged and not feel isolated.
Sleep: Always remember to get enough sleep to improve your memory. Getting enough deep, non-REM sleep contributes to memory consolidation, the process whereby new memories are transferred into long-term storage. Research also has shown that toxic proteins in the brain, such as amyloid-Beta in Alzheimer’s disease, are cleared more efficiently during deep sleep. You need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, actual sleep, not just time in bed. Don’t forget to go to bed and wake up at the same time to preserve the benefits of a restorative sleep.
Give your brain time to recover and rejuvenate!
For more information on a healthy lifestyle and how to manage the stress of isolation, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Koganski at 215-750-7000 or www.NewtownInternalMedicine.com