What did ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates have in common with the ever-fabulous Joan Collins? This may seem like a strange question, but the answer is that they both shared a pearl of certain wisdom that we now know to be true! While Collins lives by the phrase “Use it, or lose it”, Hippocrates said, in a slightly more refined manner; “That which is used develops. That which is not, wastes away.”
When it comes to memory, we all have our moments of forgetfulness, and missing an appointment or forgetting the birthday of a friend can happen at any age. However, as we get older, experiencing memory loss can become more daunting, particularly as we may wonder if it indicates the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Thankfully, whether it’s something you are grappling with or something you’d rather keep as far into the future as possible, studies show that there is quite a lot that we can do, in the quest to give our trusty grey cells a fortifying boost. Harvard Health concluded from multiple studies that some healthful habits and strategic activities can go a long way when it comes to warding off cognitive decline. Let’s have a look at some great habits we could embrace to boost our mental agility:
1) Start With A Health MOT
If inexplicable memory loss has left you worried, there may be an underlying cause to blame. Many factors, from diseases to medications, can interfere with memory. Book yourself in for an overhaul and share your experiences with your doctor. If one of the following, or any other issue, could be triggering the symptoms giving you cause for concern, you may well be able to uncover an underlying issue.
Diabetes-related blood sugar fluctuations can limit blood flow to the brain, causing cognitive decline.
•Excessive blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular disease have all been linked to reduced memory function.
• Hormone Imbalances, such as thyroid issues, oestrogen dips in menopausal women or low testosterone in men can cause forgetfulness, sluggish thought or confusion.
•Many over the counter and prescription medications can impact memory and mental clarity. Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise you of any potential side effects.
2) It’s Time To Get Moving!
Physical exercise is great for increasing oxygen to the brain and reduces the risk of some of those nemesis disorders mentioned above. Whether you prefer the idea of walking the dog, buying a yoga mat or taking a dance class, this movement will be beneficial as anything that gets your blood pumping will help your mind to stay sharp!
Exercise has far more to offer than supplying your brain with red blood cells. It also plays an important role in neuroplasticity by boosting growth factors that stimulate new neuronal connections, and enhancing the effect of a myriad of useful brain chemicals and reducing stress-hormone levels. Expect to feel not only an increase in memory function but also a boost in mood and energy.
Get an added bonus by looking for activities that allow you to work your way up through skill levels, challenging your brain to build new connections, and opting for group activities to benefit from the brain-boosting effects of positive social interaction.
3) Nourish Your Body And Your Mind
Studies have shown that those who eat a Mediterranean diet experience slower mental decline. So, what is it that those Southern Europeans do so well? For one, they eat plenty of beautiful, fresh fruits and vegetables. A colourful rainbow of plant-based foods will be loaded with antioxidants that act as protective guardians against damage to brain cells.
A diet featuring healthy fats, while skipping the unhealthy ones, is also part of the puzzle. Omega-3, in particular, is fantastic for warding off inflammation and maintaining brain health. Get a regular dose of fish like salmon, tuna, halibut, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring, or if you’re not a fish fan, opt for walnuts, ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, kidney beans, spinach, broccoli, pumpkin seeds and seaweed.
Moving eastward, away from the Mediterranean, green tea contains polyphenols which are antioxidants that protect against free radicals that can damage brain cells. A regular brew of this powerful beverage may enhance memory and mental alertness, while slowing brain ageing.
4) Ditch Those Pesky Bad Habits
If you’re a smoker, then use the mental impact of your bad habit to give you the jolt you need to kick it. Scarily, smoking has been linked to a thinner cortex: the brain’s outer layer, which is crucial for thinking skills. Quitting can reverse some of the damage, but repairs can be very slow, so it’s far better to stop sooner rather than later!
Drinking too much is also a gamble that really isn’t worth making. Alcohol limits our ability to absorb crucial vitamin B1, alongside a host of other negative impacts. Chronic drinking is known to cause memory loss and reduced cognition and has even been connected to a reduction in brain size.
5) Develop A Restorative Sleep Schedule
All sorts of necessary growth and repair occur within our brains and bodies while we are asleep, and so neglecting the quality of our shut-eye has a far more negative impact on our overall health than most people assume. To avoid denting your memory, creativity, problem-solving abilities and critical thinking skills (phew!) aim for between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.
Support your natural circadian rhythm by establishing a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at around the same times each day and try your best to stick to this routine during weekends and holidays too. Avoid all screens for an hour or so before bed. The blue light that your TV, mobile phone, tablet or computer emits suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you sleepy. This keeps your brain whirring when it should be winding down.
6) Keep Your Mind Supple By Conquering Stress
Chronic stress is a pesky gremlin when it comes to destroying brain cells. Over time, it can cause damage to the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain involved in the formation of new memories and the retrieval of old ones. Happily, you can negate these negative impacts by setting some self-protecting boundaries, such as setting realistic expectations, being willing to say no to the excessive demands of others and maintaining a healthy balance between work and leisure time.
Avoid bottling things up by expressing your feelings as they arise, and perhaps consider incorporating a little meditation into your daily routine. Impressively, meditation can help to conquer depression, anxiety, chronic pain, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The cognition specific benefits include improved focus, concentration, creativity, memory, and learning and reasoning skills. For those of you who decided to quit smoking a few paragraphs back, meditation increases the thickness of the cerebral cortex and encourages new connections between brain cells, making it a beneficial habit for everyone!
7) Take Up A Hobby
With so many potential hobbies to choose from, you are certain to find something you love that will have a positive impact on your memory. For example, the listening and memorising involved in learning a foreign language is sure to stimulate the brain, while progressing to more and more difficult crosswords or Sudoku puzzles will help you forge new neural pathways.
Taking a cooking class is a great option as it stimulates so many of the senses. Smell, touch, sight and taste all engage different areas of the brain while discovering new recipes from around the world can be highly stimulating. Even when simply dining out with friends, you can challenge yourself to identifying the subtle flavours of specific ingredients. Speaking of friends, having meaningful friendships and a strong support system is vital to brain health, so it is important to have fun. There is nothing like a bit of laughter for lighting up the brain!
Use your skills and volunteer for an organisation. Getting involved in things which can help important causes or those less fortunate than yourself will keep your mind active and healthy. You will increase your sense of value and perspective on the things that stress you out at the same time. Dextrous activities such as knitting, crochet, needlepoint and embroidery are extremely good for hand-eye refinement and fine motor skills. These are excellent crafts for reducing stress too.
8) Train Your Brain
It may feel a little silly at first but developing some brain-training rituals can offer powerful reinforcement for memory maintenance. Try simple exercises such as re-writing your shopping or to-do list from memory and seeing how many you got right! Or try drawing a map from what you can recall each time you go somewhere. Attempting to learn and recite poems or song lyrics, or practising maths problem-solving in your head are great examples of easy daily practices to incorporate. You can also amuse yourself by trying (safely) to do chores with your eyes closed, forcing your memory to kick in, or experiment by using your non-dominant hand for everyday tasks like eating, writing or brushing your teeth.
The simple act of pulling yourself out of autopilot and taking pleasure in adopting on small challenges throughout your day will help you nurture and retain your mental capacity, enabling you to get the most out of life!