Can’t think of the word on the tip of your tongue? Regularly misplace your car keys or look everywhere for your reading glasses only to find them on top of your head? You aren’t alone. By around age 50, many people notice that they are becoming more forgetful. Whether you call it having a senior moment or brain fog, it happens to all of us.
It was once believed that brain function peaked during early adulthood and then slowly declined, leading to forgetfulness during the golden years. It’s now known that a modern lifestyle actually plays a significant role in contributing to cognitive decline, which is why exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticide, herbicide, chemicals in foods, poor diet and a stressful lifestyle can actually hinder the functioning of our brain.
There is a part of our brain known as the hippocampus, which plays a vital role in consolidating memory, primarily long-term memories. The good news is that scientists have discovered that the hippocampus constantly generates new cells throughout our entire lifetime, not just during our youth but well into our 90s, provided we lead a healthy lifestyle.
Top 6 lifestyle tips to improve brain memory
Unless there is a serious underlying medical issue, minor forgetfulness is normal. Try these simple steps to improve memory and you’ll soon realise how easy it is to incorporate them into your daily routine.
1. Sleep well
Sleep and memory is a comprehensively researched subject, and it’s clear that sleep plays a significant role in memory formation. Keeping your mind active improves the function of your brain, while sleep helps store all the memories. As you fall asleep, the brain switches from an acquiring state to a storing state.
Researchers have found that memory impairment is linked to poor sleeping habits. People who are well rested learn quicker and are more likely to remember what they learned. The cognitive decline that often accompanies aging may result from chronically poor sleep. At the same time, another study has proven that naps help children boost their learning abilities. The conclusion here is that we need to get enough sleep to help our memory, no matter what age we are. Eight hours a night is ideal for an adult, but depending on the individual, you may need slightly more or less.
Studies have proven that people who follow a regular exercise routine during their youth have a better memory in their middle age, particularly after the age of 45. Sports like swimming, running and hiking help with memory retainment in the long term. To improve your memory and keep your mind focused as you age, keep your body and mind active. You should pick cardio over other types of exercises to increase your heart rate and blood flow towards the brain, which helps with development and repair.
3. Work it!
If you don’t challenge your brain with new information, it will begin to deteriorate. A great way to exercise your brain is through playing games. Games focusing on logic and strategy like chess, crossword puzzles and Sudoku improves memory and focus, and are a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Computer games may be more exciting, but they don’t improve cognitive functions like the classics.
4. Get a new hobby
Engaging in purposeful and meaningful activities stimulates the brain, and is a key factor for improving brain function. Pick up a new skill or hobby that interests you and is something that is both useful and appealing. A popular example is cooking where you’ll use your sense of smell, taste, sight and touch, stimulating different parts of the brain. It’s also a lifelong skill and will complement your healthy eating regime.
5. Social skills
Socialising makes us happy and is great for the brain. Never underestimate the power of a good talk, be it about politics, current affairs or even what scandal happened at work that day! Chatting stimulates multiple parts of the brain and improves memory by keeping the synapses (connective paths between neurons) active. Besides who doesn’t love a good chinwag!
6. Stop multitasking
Did you know that we need approximately eight seconds to commit a piece of information to memory? Imagine this common scenario - you’re carrying your groceries into the house, then your phone rings and you put your car keys down - chances are you’re going to forget where the keys are. We all multitask out of necessity, but it can slow us down and cause forgetfulness.
The opposite of multitasking is mindfulness, which is about achieving undistracted focus. If you find yourself trying to complete five tasks at once, stop and focus on just one. If distracting thoughts enter your head, remind yourself that these are only projections, not reality, and allow them to pass. Go one step further and end your day with a short (10 to 15 minutes) meditation session to slow down and relax, which will lead to a more restful sleep.