While out to dinner, you feel a hand on your shoulder and hear your name being called by a familiar voice. When you turn around, they are grinning. You are familiar with her and have been for quite some time. But all you can muster is a “Hey…you!” because her name has vanished from your memory.
Be assured that some changes in memory and cognition are a normal part of aging before you start Googling “signs of dementia,” especially if they appear as difficulty finding words or brief attention lapses (Why did I walk into the kitchen?). According to Joel Kramer, Psy.D., director of the University of California San Francisco Memory and Aging Neuropsychology program, “many of our cognitive skills, like multitasking and processing speed, peak around age 30 and then tend to decline very subtly with age.”
But they’re not required to. You can retrain your brain to stay focused and sharp by making wise lifestyle decisions. We consulted some of the brightest minds to get their evidence-based advice on maintaining brain health.
1. Before searching online, try to recall.
The internet is fantastic for providing you with the name of that actor whose name just won’t leave your tongue. However, it’s contributing to a contemporary ailment known as digital amnesia—forgetting information because you rely on a machine to remember it for you. According to a survey by Internet security company Kaspersky Lab, it’s the reason why 50% of us can’t call our kids or the office without using our contacts list.
Sara Mednick, Ph.D., an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine, asserts that the brain is a use-it-or-lose-it machine.However, those parts of the brain can deteriorate when we rely on external sources, such as our phones or the Internet, to remember things for us.
Challenge yourself to resist looking someone up the next time you can’t remember their name. Work through it and have faith that your brain has the solution stored somewhere; you just need to find it, advises Mednick. Similar to that, try to navigate to a new address without using Google Maps; alternatively, if that seems too difficult, try a different route home from work. It all comes down to not living in automatic mode, according to Mednick. “The more you engage your brain to keep it healthier longer, the more you think things through or try new approaches.”
2. Go to sleep.
When it comes to being able to think quickly on your feet, getting quality, restful sleep is essential. Our memories convert the information we learned throughout the day into practical working knowledge as we move from slow-wave sleep in the first part of the night to REM sleep in the early morning hours.
Getting those seven to eight hours has no substitute. But according to Mednick, a well-timed nap can be surprisingly close. Our time in each stage is more productive when we take a nap in the middle of the day, she claims. You cycle through slow-wave and REM sleep in equal amounts during a 90-minute nap and throughout the course of a full night of sleep. A 90-minute nap can therefore be just as effective as sleeping for an entire night in terms of memory consolidation, creativity, and productivity. 90 minutes are too difficult to fit into your schedule. A 30-minute nap can also aid in memory retention.
3. Engage in daily exercise.
Your brain receives a boost whenever you move in a way that causes your heart to beat faster. According to Gary W. Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Longevity Center and author of 2 Weeks to a Younger Brain, “blood is filled with oxygen and nutrients that feed our brains.” A protein that “acts like fertilizer for the brain, stimulating neurons to sprout branches so they can communicate more effectively,” as described by Dr. Small, is also produced by the body as a result of exercise. Researchers from the University of Illinois found that after a year, the hippocampus, a memory centre in the brains of the walkers, was 2% larger than in the stretching and toning group. They had 120 adults between the ages of 55 and 80 spend 40 minutes, three days per week, either walking briskly or stretching and toning. Although that proportion might seem negligible, Dr. Small points out that it is “enough to essentially reverse the brain shrinkage that naturally occurs with aging in the same period of time.”
You may experience an immediate cognitive boost after just one workout. According to a small but encouraging 2019 study, those who cycled stationary for 30 minutes were better at remembering names than those who just rested.
4. Reduce your multitasking.
Although multitasking makes us feel more productive, it actually has the opposite effect. According to Dr. Small, “the brain is not designed to focus on multiple tasks at once.” Because of this, when we multitask, our brains become stressed and “we make more mistakes, which ultimately makes us less efficient.” (A four-second break, the length of time it takes to glance at your phone, can triple the likelihood that you’ll make a mistake while working on a task.)
Because of this, it can be challenging to recall what you were saying after you hang up if the phone rings while you’re having a conversation with someone.
Work more effectively by doing one thing at a time rather than attempting to multitask. Put your phone away first; even when it’s off, being near a smartphone impairs the brain’s capacity to hold and process information. According to Dr. Small, setting aside specific times each day to respond to email may help to reduce the urge to constantly check your inbox. Use a digital time management tool like Time Doctor or RescueTime to block access to specific websites if the allure of email or social media is too strong.
Another strategy that some people find effective is batching, which involves gathering related tasks and completing them all at once. Set aside some time each day for quick administrative tasks.You will be more effective and sharper overall as a result of being able to concentrate on more in-depth work at other times.
5. Consume for the brain.
Your daily memory and focus, as well as your capacity to retain information, are significantly influenced by your diet. Try these three recommendations from science:
Beets and berries
In the course of daily life, naturally occurring free radicals are continuously forming in the brain. According to Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, “they act like rust, causing your neurons to age faster” if left untreated. According to Mosconi, raspberries actually enter your brain, seize free radicals, and escort them out “like police officers trapping the bad guys” because raspberries are bursting with anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds with a unique ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Even a little bit can be helpful.Nitric oxide improves blood flow by relaxing blood vessels all over the body. Your mental acuity will increase as more blood reaches your brain.
Curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory compound, is abundant in this spice. In a small study, those without dementia who took 90 mg of it twice daily outperformed those who took a placebo in terms of memory and attention. According to Dr. Small, who oversaw the study, “Curcumin might be one reason why people who eat a lot of spicy curries or Indian food tend to perform better on cognitive tests than those who don’t, and why rates of Alzheimer’s are lower in India than in the U.S.” Take a supplement (first consult your doctor) or try using the spice twice a week when cooking. You might not need to consume as much as you would if you were taking a supplement because the oil used in cooking increases absorption.
One more thing to keep in mind when it comes to eating is to avoid getting hangry, that grumpy feeling that comes with being ravenous (hungry + angry), which can ruin more than just your mood. According to Cleveland Clinic psychologist Susan Albers, Psy.D., author of Hanger Management, “If you go too long without eating, your blood sugar levels drop, and that affects your focus and decision-making.” That’s because you need food because your brain runs on sugar, or glucose. The time it takes for “hanger” to strike differs from person to person, so the trick is to be aware of your own threshold and work to outpace your hunger throughout the day. Consider consuming nuts, puffed chickpea snacks, protein bars, or other foods that are high in protein and good fats.
3 Surprising Dementia Links
Cardiovascular disease: According to Kramer, ailments that affect your heart also impair your brain’s capacity for optimal function. Heart disease and high blood pressure are two of these, both of which have a direct impact on cognitive decline. Make every effort to avoid or treat cardiovascular disease, which is associated with deteriorated memory and sluggish processing speed, as well as obesity.
High blood sugar: People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing dementia (some doctors are even referring to AD as “type 3 diabetes”), but even people without diabetes who have high blood sugar levels could be at an increased risk of cognitive decline due to the inflammatory effects of sugar on the brain. Instead of using refined sugar, Mosconi advises concentrating on natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, as well as fruit and dried fruit.
Social isolation compromises brain health, which is loneliness. Being alone is very stressful. And stress is harmful to the body and brain, according to Mednick, fueling inflammation that destroys memory.someone over for dinner because it encourages interaction and a sense of community, both of which reduce the stress that can cause inflammation.