The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, so significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging. But just as it is with muscle strength, you have to use it or lose it. Your lifestyle, habits, and daily activities have a huge impact on the health of your brain. Whatever your age, there are things you can do every day to keep mind and body sharp.
Find a strategy for stress. The constant daily stresses such as deadlines or petty arguments can certainly distract you and affect your ability to focus and recall. But the bigger problem is an ongoing sense of anxiety that can lead to memory impairment. If you don’t have a strategy in place for managing your stress, protecting your memory is a good reason to get one. Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and a “mindful” approach to living can all help.
Get a good night’s sleep. A good night’s sleep is essential for consolidating memories. People who have trouble sleeping well at night tend to be more forgetful than people who sleep soundly. Unfortunately, many medications used to treat sleeping problems can also impair memory and general brain function. For this reason, it’s best to try improving your sleep habits first and turn to medication only if those steps don’t help. If you do need sleep aids, use the lowest dose for the shortest time needed to get your sleep back on track.
If you smoke, quit. Easier said than done, but if you need additional motivation, know that smokers have a greater degree of age-related memory loss and other memory problems than nonsmokers. People who smoke more than two packs of cigarettes a day at midlife have more than double the risk of developing dementia in old age compared with nonsmokers.
Watch your alcohol intake. Similarly, drinking too much alcohol increases the risk for memory loss and dementia. Excessive alcohol use long-term has also been connected to reduced brain size.
Exercise. Did you know that exercise not only benefits your body, but also your brain? Research now shows exercise can improve our memory, our problem solving, and may even reduce our risk for dementia. Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of neurology, shared that while he can prescribe medications for memory loss, the best treatment his patients can possibly get is to start exercising regularly. He explained that physical exercise is at least as important for your brain as it is for your heart or body. Exercise improves your heart function and blood pressure and makes your muscles more effective, which causes more blood supply to the brain. A healthy body is important for a healthy brain. Exercise literally changes the brain. It makes critical parts of the brain more plastic and capable of learning new things and adjusting to challenges. It literally makes new brain cells in key parts of the brain related to memory, problem solving, and executive functions.