According to surveys, people are twice as fearful about losing their mental health compared to their physical health. While some memory loss comes with aging, not everyone has to experience it to the greatest extent. Choices you make every day play a part in your brain’s health. Cathy Alessi, M.D., president of the American Geriatrics Society and professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, says, “Lifestyle factors can be very important at preventing cognitive decline in older people.” Dr. Alessi says that while there are factors, such as genetics, which are out of your control, there are ways to protect your memory with age. The following are ways you could be sabotaging your memory without even realizing it:
Medications: Taking some prescription and OTC drugs could have an effect on your memory. According to Dr. Alessi, the most troublesome are medications with a mechanism to act on your brain, like antidepressants, antipsychotics, and sleep and anxiety aids. Memory loss associated with this can come suddenly, but is short-term and will improve once you stop the medication. While most people have no problems with medications and memory, those with a pre-existing problem with cognition or early memory loss are more susceptible. Dr. Alessi warns to never stop medications immediately and to keep in contact with your doctor to see if medications are still necessary.
Stress Level: Stress can affect your brain in the forms of forgetfulness, confusion, or difficulty concentrating. In addition, stress often translates into belly fat because the body’s natural response to stress is to release increasing levels of cortisol. High levels of cortisol lead to belly fat, which can, in turn, lead to memory loss and cognitive impairment. Research has proven that middle aged men with high amounts of abdominal fat were 3.6 times as likely to develop memory loss and dementia later in life. Minimize stress levels by exercising regularly.
Diet: Your diet should contain healthy foods to keep your brain functioning and healthy, just like your body. Registered dietitian, Samantha Heller, author of “Get Smart: Samantha Heller’s Nutrition Prescription for Boosting Brain Power and Optimizing Total Body Health,” starts by saying that eating fats is an essential way for neurons to communicate to one another. Good fats are found in foods like fish, avocados, nuts, sunflower oil, flax, pumpkin seeds and tofu. Fruits and vegetables help to reduce oxidative stress, which plays a role in cognitive decline. Heller says that veggies, such as kale, broccoli, spinach, and cabbage, support a healthy brain. Blueberries have also been shown to increase cognitive function.
Sleep: Research shows that through the strengthening of the neural connections that form our memories—memory consolidation— takes place during sleep. Without enough sleep, it is hard to make memories stick as to remember them in the future. To get a better night’s sleep, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, get 20-30 minutes of exercise and avoid caffeinated drinks that can keep you up. If those things do not work, try listening to music and keeping a comfortable temperature in the bedroom.
Activity Level: Physical exercise is not only good for our bodies, but also for our brains. By keeping active, you are also keeping your brain healthy and boosting memory, Heller says. Research has also proven this, with data finding that exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, leading to improvements in memory. Scientists who studied older adults found that aerobic exercise training reverses memory loss by up to two years. Experts say that you can keep your brain healthy by engaging in physical activity for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.