It’s a fear shared by almost everyone in middle age and beyond. One moment, your memory seems fine. The next, you find yourself struggling to remember a new neighbor’s name, or the name of a young worker in your office … a worker you personally interviewed and hired only a few days earlier. Some decline in memory is common as people age. Yet not all memory impairment is the result of normal aging. Researchers have long known that certain behaviors are highly destructive to the brain, and by extension, memory. For example, alcohol abuse and smoking are very bad for your brain. On the other hand, several recent studies have found a possible link between certain behaviors and improved memory, even in younger adults.
5. Avoid or Reduce Trans Fat in Your Diet
Trans fat is seemingly everywhere in the modern American diet, added by food manufacturers to improve the taste and shelf life of their products. You’ve undoubtedly heard plenty of bad news about trans fat, specifically about how it can raise bad LDL cholesterol, and lower the good HDL cholesterol that helps protect against heart disease. Turns out that trans fat is not so good for your memory, either. A study presented at an American Heart Association conference in November 2014 found a link between higher trans fat consumption and impaired memory performance in adults under the age of 45. Although many food companies have lowered or even eliminated trans fat in their products, some foods are still loaded with this substance, also known as trans-fatty acids, or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Foods to watch out for include fast foods, potato chips, some margarines and shortenings, cake frosting, some frozen dinners, and fried foods in general.
4. Start a Regimen of Strength/Resistance Training
Many studies have shown that weight training can improve a person’s overall health at any age. Now comes a study suggesting that even one brief session of light resistance training may boost memory. In a study funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, researchers showed a group of 46 participants a series of 90 images on a computer screen. All participants were seated at a leg extension resistance machine; half the participants were asked to use the machine to do 50 repetitions to their maximum effort. When all the participants returned to the lab 48 hours later, they were shown the same 90 images, as well as 90 new images. Those who had been exposed to the stress of the workout fared better at remembering the previous images, and recognizing the new images.
Results of the study, published in the October 2014 issue of Acta Psychologica, are consistent with other research that has found exercise in general can help reverse memory loss. But the surprising takeaway is that even one brief session can be beneficial. Said researcher Lisa Weinberg, “Our study indicates that people don’t have to dedicate large amounts of time to give their brain a boost.”
3. Add a Cup of Coffee to Your Daily Routine
Many people swear they couldn’t live without their daily cup — or three — of joe, for the energy boost it gives them. That boost may translate to better memory. A study published in early 2014 in the online journal Nature Neuroscience reported that caffeine may help improve memory consolidation. A group of 160 participants who were not regular coffee drinkers were shown 200 random pictures of everyday items. The following day, researchers presented the participants with a surprise quiz on the photos, with new pictures added, and others slightly modified. The study participants who had been given a 200 mg caffeine pill after the first test were better able to distinguish the previous items, and detect the changes to the modified items. Researchers noted that caffeine helps liberate the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which enhances memory.
2. Take Vitamin D Supplements
Vitamin D, aka the Sunshine Vitamin, is often touted for its key role in promoting strong and healthy bones. Yet much research in recent years suggests it plays a vital role in other areas, including good brain health. A study reported in October 2014 online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that middle-aged rats that received a high daily vitamin D supplement negotiated a maze more quickly and easily than rats on medium or low doses of the vitamin. It’s worth noting that vitamin D supplements are a source of tremendous controversy in the medical community. While some health-care providers recommend supplemental levels of 1,000 IU/day, the Institute of Medicine recommends 600 IU/day (800 IU/day for those 71 and older).
1. Lower Your Blood Glucose Level
The link between type 2 diabetes and memory loss has been well established. But a study published in October 2013 in the online journal Neurology revealed a surprising finding: even in non-diabetics who had blood glucose levels within the normal range, higher blood sugar levels were linked to an increased risk of memory problems. The study of 141 non-diabetic participants found that those with higher long-term and short-term blood glucose marker levels performed poorer on three different memory tasks. Researchers noted that higher glucose levels were “significantly associated” with decreased volume of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that plays a key role in memory. Also, higher yet still normal glucose levels may damage blood vessels in the brain, with an obvious corresponding impact on memory.
Researchers noted two ways for people to achieve a lower blood glucose level: regular exercise and a healthy diet (really, so many health problems could be cured or entirely avoided with these simple lifestyle changes). A diet high in lean proteins and complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains is beneficial. Also, avoid or limit junk foods or processed foods that are often loaded with added sugar.
The author has written health- and fitness-related stories for a number of websites, including Livestrong.com. As with any health-related information you read or hear, be sure to consult with your health-care provider before implementing changes in your diet or lifestyle.