Our memory is something that is difficult to keep track of as we age. Or maybe there are some signs … but we forgot. Which sounds like a joke, until we realize, it’s not. And once it starts to slip, it’s not easy to get it back on track, or prevent it from getting worse, such as developing neurodegenerative diseases.
There’s really no light-hearted way to spin it; neurodegenerative conditions are rampant in the aging community, and we know now that a lot of that has to do with sleep and diet, earlier in life, not after the fact. With that in mind, we like to get a headstart on our cognitive health. We consider it a holistic way to cope with aging. It’s all connected, after all.
Addiction and wellness specialist, Erica Spiegelman, knows a thing or two about the human mind, how it develops, degrades, and functions, and how to keep things sharp as time continues its whole continuously passing thing. She hit us with a few of her favorite hacks to keep top of mind when we want to successfully continue to keep things top of mind. Here are her suggestions for improving and maintaining a vital memory:
“Eating healthy is key, especially FLAVONOIDS!” Spiegelman hammers in.
“The neuroprotective actions of dietary flavonoids protect neurons against injury, and in turn help with memory and cognitive function! Berries, red cabbage, grapes, tea, parsley, kale, and onions are all great sources.”
Flavonoids aren’t themselves antioxidants, but they have high antioxidant activity. They can also be found in green tea (hello matcha), brightly colored fruits and veggies, and red wine—in moderation, of course. They assist in key cellular function, which is super important throughout our entire body and, as one can imagine, the brain.
Free radicals can wreak havoc on our brain cells, causing them to die off or not properly detox toxic buildup. This buildup creates a plaque between neurotransmitters in the brain, which contributes to those neurodegenerative diseases that directly affect our memory, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Spiegelman’s second rallying cry? Get. Adequate. Sleep. That toxic buildup of plaque blocking our neurons from communicating with each other, resulting in a failure to recall? It gets cleared out when we hit our REM. In fact, that deep restorative sleep is when our brain doesn’t shut down—it kicks into high gear.
While we deeply sleep, our brain works overtime to detox all the metabolic waste we’ve accumulated throughout the day. Just like the lymph system in the body, the brain has its own lymph system, called the glymphatic system. We need a minimum of about seven hours to do this thoroughly enough, so planning to be in bed for a total of eight hours gives enough time to cycle in and out of those crucial REM sessions so that our cerebrospinal fluid can wash away toxic waste.
“Speak out loud,” Spiegelman tells us, which we love. So, we’re not crazy. What she’s saying is that we’re actually really smart? That’s right, speaking out loud to ourselves helps with memory recall, so if we need to remember things, try reading them aloud or simply repeating them aloud.
“To remember someone’s name, say it, like, ‘Nice to meet you, Mary.’ We remember things when we speak them and repeat them.” And Spiegelman isn’t the only one who believes this. This study from the University of Waterloo states that reading things aloud has the power to commit those words to our long-term memory, known as the Production Effect—the act of speaking words and hearing our own voice say them for the most beneficial impact on memory.
Similar to speaking aloud, “writing down information in your own words helps the brain remember concepts,” Spiegelman tells us. This is not only great for work, but for remembering recipes, mantras, important ideas and thoughts, affirmations—anything! “Even writing down pictures, diagrams, and charts can be helpful.”
Studies show that for something important that we really don’t want to forget, writing it down repeatedly has a huge impact on our brain’s ability to retain information. This is a great way to continually flex our memory muscle to keep it lubed up and fully functional for years to come.
Make up your own acronyms
While this may seem silly, Spiegelman is a fan! “Develop an acronym. They help to make complicated notions easy for our brain to remember. You can also remember more words with an acronym.” Consider it a mnemonic device of your choosing—one that can be easily accessed and customized depending on the situation.
Mindfulness meditation is touted for calming the brain and our adrenals, but it’s also a workout for the brain. And it doesn’t always have to be full-blown meditation. There are lots of mindfulness practices we can do anywhere with virtually only our brains. Simply looking around and naming what we observe is a great mindfulness tool, especially in times of stress. It reorganizes attention and allows the neurons to clear a path for clearer thinking.
And studies show that mindfulness actively improves neuron function in the brain. We aren’t stuck with one brain, one mode of thinking for all eternity. We are blessed with neuroplasticity—the ability to change our perceptions, beliefs, and modalities in order to shift outcomes. We do this with mindfulness and training; it’s not easy to change the way we think, but it’s possible.
Try sitting quietly in the morning. Eat breakfast without distractions, just focus on the food nourishing your body, the flavors, textures, and thorough chewing. Try sitting in nature and just focus on the wind, the grass, the trees, and the sounds. Spend your thoughts on one task at a time. These are great ways to integrate mindfulness into your daily routine and work on strengthening your memory every day.
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