Posted on

Aug 09, 2021

Written by Patricia Rockwood, Instructor and Staff Writer, Adult & Community Enrichment (ACE), Suncoast Technical College, Sarasota County District Schools. For class info, pleasevisit our website or give us a call at (941) 361-6590.

Everyones heard the old saying Use it or lose it.There is some truth to thatadage: Our brain has a wonderful ability to adapt and changeeven as we age. This ability is called neuroplasticity, and it means that we can keep learning for as long as we want to. But just as with any other muscle, our brain needs regular exercise.

According toexperts, agood brain workoutis one thatis a bit challenging and teaches you something new. Maybe youve always wanted to try your hand atphotographyor throwing a pot. Or maybe youre planning a trip toItalyand youd like to brush up on your Italian.Have youbeen working on your memoirs?You could join a class to get tips on how to organize yournotes,andshare your journey with others. If you long for something moreenergetic,there are many types ofdance classes. Any activitythat keeps you challenged and focusedwillstimulate your brain andimprove your memory.

Manylifestyle factors affect memory. Experts recommendtakingthe followingstepsto improve memory andbrainhealth:

Get regular physical exercise.The best thing for memory is exercise, says RickHuganir, PhD, director of the Johns Hopkins Department of Neuroscience.Researchers arenot clear exactlyhowit works, butit has to do withgetting more blood to your brain.Physical exercise also helps prevent diseases that can be damaging to memory, such as diabetes and hypertension.

Aerobic exercise is the best kind: if its good for your heart, its good for your brain,is a good mantra to follow.Try takingexercise breaks throughout the day, whether you are still working or retired; even a few minutes of getting your heart rate going will help reboot your brain. Activities that require hand-eye coordination (such asany racket sportandmany dance classes) are particularly good for the memory circuits.

Housework and yardworkmayalsocountas aerobic exercisesometimes.Also, if youre pressed for time,you coulddo a power walk through the grocery storeor the mall and complete errands at the same timeas youfill yourexercise quota.

Handle any medical problems,especially circulatory diseasessuch as high bloodpressure,highcholesterol, diabetes, and strokeall ofthese conditions can damage the brain and affect your memory.A nationwidetrialcalled the Sprint-Mindstudyshowed that intensive lowering of blood pressurereduces the risk for mild cognitive impairmentwhich isa risk for dementia.Hormone imbalance in both women and men, including thyroid problems, may also be of concern.

Get enough sleep. Sleep apnea and stress are two sleep disruptions that can damage brain functions, includingmemory.Experts believe that 95% of adults need 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep, whereas many of us are getting by on 6 or less. Sleep is necessary for the essential function ofmemory consolidation,which occurs only in the deepest stage of sleep. Youmay haveheard some orall ofthe following suggestions before, but they really are the best way to begin sleeping more and better:

Turn off all screens at least an hour before bed; the blue light emitted by TVs, phones, and computers causes wakefulness and interferes with the hormones that cause sleepiness, such as melatonin.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays.
Cut back on caffeine if you suspect that it's interfering with your sleep. People react differently to caffeine;you may beso sensitive that even one morning cup of coffee can keepyoufrom sleeping at night,or it may haveno effect at allon you.

Review your medicationswith your doctor; some, such as anxiety meds, can affect memory. Other medications may also have side effectsthat affectmemory as well asother brain functions.Your doctor should also check for possible drug interactions.Be sure to also tell your doctor about any supplements that you take regularly.

Stay social!Crosswords and sudoku are great for keeping you sharp, butitseven bettertoplay Bridge, Scrabble, or other challenging games with friends.Keeping your memory healthy is as good an excuse as any for getting out and getting together!Now that more and more people have been vaccinated, social rules in more places are being eased somewhat. A 2008 studyfrom the Harvard School of Public Health found that people with the most active social lives had the slowest rate of memory decline. Remember to get your hearing tested at least yearly, as it often declines gradually and can contribute to social isolation.

Manage your stress. Stress is not something you can avoid; in fact, stress is a part of life. Rather than try to avoid stress itself, the key is to look at how you react to it,physically and emotionally. Over time, poorly managed stress reactions can destroy brain cells, damaging the areas in the brain that deal with memory, making it harder to make new memories or retrieve older ones. Here are a few ways to manage stress:

Learn to meditate.Meditation is easy to learn and has wonderful benefits, both physical and mental.Besides helping you with daily stress relief, meditation can help improve memory and focus, and reduce anxiety. On the physical side, a regular meditation practice has been scientifically shown to help with chronic pain, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Learn to say No.If your to-do list is one of the sources of your stress, take steps to shorten it.
Learn how to play. Finish this saying: All work and no play If you can learn to bring joy and spontaneity back into your life, you might feel a little happier and more relaxed.
Simplify. Step outside the Rat Race and slow your life down a bit. If you can stopor at least reducemultitasking, youll enjoy the peaceful Zen feeling of focusing on one thing at a time.

Laugh more. Laughingand responding to funny situations or jokes requires several areas of the brain to work together, stimulatinglearning and creativity, according toHelpGuide. Laughter also relaxes you physically, by alternately tensing and relaxing your facial and stomach muscles. Dose yourself with your favorite radio or TV comedyshows, orlook up on-demand programs on cable. As the saying goes, Laughter is the best medicine!

Eat healthy.Is there a memory diet?Not exactly. But some foods are better for a healthy brain than others, and some foods aredefinitely NOTso good for your brain. The best overall diet, as you probably know, isbased on fruits, vegetables, whole grains,healthy fatsolive oil, nuts, fishandlean protein. Here are some additional pointers:

Getomega-3 fatty acids, either fromcoldwaterfatty fish such as salmon, trout, herring, andtuna;or from walnuts, flaxseed, winter squash, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans, and soybeans.
Limit calories from saturated fatit increases the risk of dementia and impairs concentration andmemory.
Eat more fruitsand vegetablesthey are full ofantioxidants, important in protecting brain cells from free radical damage, thus improvingmemory.
Drink green teait containspolyphenols, which protect against free radical damage and may enhance memory andalertness.
Have somered wine (in moderation), or grape juice, or eat fresh grapes and berriesall of these containresveratrol, an antioxidant which boosts blood flow tothebrain and in doing so may improve cognitive function, including memory, according to several recentstudies.

Johns Hopkins Medicine: Memory: Five Ways to Protect Your Brain Health

HelpGuide/Healthy Aging/How to Improve Your Memory

Medical News Today: Social Activity in Your 60s May Lower Dementia Risk by 12%

National Institute on Aging: Cognitive Health and Older Adults

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