By Dr. De Leon
Have you ever found yourself frantically looking for your glasses only to discover that they were on your nose already? Or have you nearly lost your mind looking for the cell phone, when suddenly you are startled by it ringing in your ear? This kind of scenario can make anyone question their sanity and wonder even if just for a second if they are beginning to develop Alzheimer’s.
You may be laughing or shaking your head because you can relate to having had similar episodes. You are not alone; we have all experienced this type of occurrence from one time to another time. Why does this happen? You’d surely like to know.
More importantly how can you avoid such embarrassing albeit laughable situations from becoming daily occurrences?
This usually happens because we are unable to process information and encode into long term memory.
You may be able to prevent such disconcerting events and further unwarranted anxiety by following these 5 simple steps to help boost your memory.
The important thing to recognize is that these few simple rules can be followed by anyone regardless of age.
We must recall that the brain is a muscle and like any other muscle in the body it must be exercised (used) in order to avoid decay and atrophy. So the more we challenge our brain and do mental exercises the stronger it will grow.
However in order to grow strong it must first have the proper nutrients.
Your mother told you, you are what you eat! Well, it turns out there is a bit of truth to that old adage. New research has shown that eating healthier foods containing probiotics (good bacteria in your gut that helps with digestion) or yogurt increases brain alertness and concentration. Plus this will help you stay regular.
Furthermore, certain vitamins play a crucial role in memory such as B12 thus it is important to eat balanced meals which contain dark greens which have loads of vitamins like B12 as well as eggs and red meat. The latter having the highest amount of B12. B12 deficiency can mimic dementia if severe.
Second: physical exercise is imperative for brain health. There is evidence that moderate exercise such as walking at least 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes (1 1/4 mile) increases brain blood flow and oxygen to your brain. Other fun and easy exercises that can be just as beneficial to your brain and health are things like dancing, tai-chi, swimming, and water aerobics, and yoga to name a few. There are many large scale studies which show that higher physical activity helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias (e.g. vascular).
Even moderate activity helps retain the memory function of sedentary elderly people.
Pick activities that are of interest to you and find a friend to do activity with; this will help you stick with the exercise that you have chosen.
Participating in an activity with a friend or buddy ensure greater satisfaction.
Third: get a bit of sunshine especially now that the summer is around the corner; grab a book and sit on a nice bench under a tree and catch those rays.
Better yet grab a friend or a significant other and go for walk outdoors, may even consider taking your breakfast or lunch outdoors if the weather is nice.
If there is an opportunity, go to the beach and soak up some rays of sunshine to get your daily vitamin D. (Caution not to lay out in the sun burning or go at high noon when UV light is most intense).
Vitamin D as it turns out is not just good for bone development and helping to prevent bone fractures and osteoporosis but is also important in the process of memory. The brain carries many vitamin D receptors located in areas of the brain responsible for memory.
The other reason we need some extra sun light is because by age 65 our skins ability to convert sunlight to vitamin D is 4 times less than it was when we were 25 year olds. Thus, we all need a little extra boost of sunshine as we age. You should spend 30 minutes to an hour outdoors at least 3 times a week in order to stimulate vitamin D receptors.
Fourth: mental fitness is the key to having healthy brain cells. Must exercise it like any other muscle. There are many ways to increase size and thus mental capacity. You can exercise your brain daily by reading and learning new words, socializing, playing games, doing puzzles all sorts to stimulate all areas of the brain. Learn a new language. Travel to new places; it does not have to be outside of the state or country to discover new things.
Here are 5 areas to work on to increase mental fitness:
- Memory: eat with your eyes closed or get dressed in the dark ( don’t do this if you have balance issues or high risk of falling).
- Attention- change your routine- take a different route the store or to the dining room, sit in a different place
- Language – learn new words, try Nintendo DS vocabulary or duo lingo and learn new language, read different types of books and novels. Practice your new words using in sentences with friends and family.
- Visual spatial– walk into a room and pick 5 items and name them, walk out and name them wait 5-10 minutes and name them again.
- Executive function– engage in social activities to boost your brain performance better yet challenges someone to play a game (board or video) with you. I recommend using Wii games (e.g. Wii resort, Brain academy, balance) to challenge your brain as well as a friend. Before you know it not only will you be having the time of your life laughing and cajoling but you will be reinforcing and building new brain cell connections in the process.
Fifth: most important element to preventing brain decay is a good night’s sleep. The main reason most of us are forgetful is due to poor concentration and inability to encode information into long term memory bank because we don’t get enough sleep. We are becoming a society of zombies- walking about in a trance –plus as we age we experience shifts in sleep. Poor sleep increases risk of death, heart disease, weight gain, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure. All of these in turn increase the risk of developing dementia/ Alzheimer’s (memory loss among other loss of previously acquired skills).
In summary whether you are 50 or a 100 you will benefit from following these 5 simple rules of eating right, getting enough sleep, getting plenty of sunshine, along with plenty of mental and physical exercise, which in turn not only will it boost your memory but it will greatly reduce your risk of developing cognitive impairment leading to dementia. Practicing above on a daily basis should help eliminate common embarrassing scenarios such as looking for ‘misplaced’ objects that are right where they ought to be.
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By Dr. De Leon
Photo by Take Back your Health Conference Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)