Having a good memory is essential for a fulfilling and productive life. It allows us to remember important events, learn new things and make important decisions. However, as we age, our memory tends to decline and that’s down to basic brain biology.
Changes in brain structures such as decreased volumes in the hippocampal, frontal lobe and temporal lobe result in overall slowness in thinking and difficulties sustaining attention, multitasking, retaining information and word-finding.
The good news is that there are many ways to promote memory health as we age. A 10-year study of 30,000 people published in the British Medical Journal indicated that there is adherence to a healthy lifestyle is associated with a slower rate of memory decline – even in those who were genetically more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are eight ways to slow memory decline related to aging:
Get Enough Rest
Sleep sets the stage for our overall health, including memory. Research shows that older adults who do not get enough rest are more susceptible to cognitive issues. Sleep helps consolidate short-term memories into long-term ones, so make sure you are getting enough sleep.
Chronic stress can have a negative impact on memory health as well. Stress hormones like cortisol can cause significant damage to the hippocampus, a region of the brain heavily involved in memory. Decreasing stress through meditation, deep breathing, or exercise can promote better memory.
Play Brain Games
Playing brain games can be a fun and stimulating way to improve memory as we age. Card games, crossword puzzles, sudoku and word memorization games are great ways to strengthen cognitive skills as well as enhance concentration and reaction skills.
Read a Book
Reading can be even better at preserving memory than playing games, as it helps with recall. Reading at least 30 minutes a day can strengthen both long-term and short-term memory, otherwise known as episodic and working memory.
Exercising your body is just as important as exercising your brain. Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, which can help improve memory by bringing necessary nutrients to the brain. You don’t have to do strenuous workouts to stay active – try walking, yoga, tai chi, gardening or golfing.
Be Mindful of Your Diet
Eating a well-balanced, anti-inflammatory diet supports memory health so stock up on foods like berries, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, peppers, leafy and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and kale, nuts and dark chocolate. Limiting your alcohol intake can improve memory as well – consuming large amounts of alcohol may have neurotoxic effects on the hippocampus.
Engaging with other people is another great way to improve your memory health because it provides mental stimulation and reduces stress, both of which lead to improving our cognitive skills. Make time for social activities such as joining a club, volunteering, attending parties, visiting friends or relatives, traveling and chatting online or on the phone.
Believe it or not, your smartphone is a useful assistive tool for memory. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that storing information on a digital device frees up your memory and promotes better recall.
When it comes to maintaining memory, the more healthy behaviors the merrier so engage in as many of these activities as possible.