Maintaining the Ability to Remember
Our lives truly are the sum of our memories, so as we collectively age, it becomes more and more imperative to retain the memories we already have (as well as the memories that we're holding onto for our ancestors) and continue to effectively make new memories of our day to day lives. The ability to generate memories peaks when we're quite young, and so as we navigate our way through adulthood, we have to work harder and harder to remember things that occur around us, particularly as we are inundated with distractions such as noise, pollution, our other thoughts, and our electronic devices.
There are many ways to enhance the abilities of our brains, both externally and internally, and you are never too young to start exercising your memory. Two of the biggest factors in creating lasting memories are paying attention, and attaching meaning to what you are trying to remember. That is why it is much easier to remember events such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces; they have meaning to you in your life. Paying close attention to the interactions that you have with the people in your lives enables you to better remember those meaningful encounters.
There are a variety of exercises that you can do to keep your memory (and your mind in general) sharp. We know that doing daily puzzles, such as crosswords or sudoku, can help to stave off alzheimer's as well as other types of dementia. In addition, websites such as www.lumosity.com can create customized, daily exercises to help maximize your brain's functionality. Lumosity also has an iphone app, and you can go through your daily exercises in under ten minutes/day. Other exercises you can do daily include practicing basic math and doing memory exercises such as remembering phone numbers or directions to new locations. The important thing is doing these exercises regularly, or even daily.
Additionally, there are strategies that you can incorporate into your diet and lifestyle that will promote optimal brain function. I believe that the brain is the most complex organ in the body, and just like your heart, it needs exercise, stress management, and a healthy diet to remain healthy. In particular, essential fatty acids (EFA's) are an appointment component of (and addition to) your diet. An adequate level of Omega 3:6:9's will help promote memory, mood, and brain health in general. While it is important to include sources of these EFA's in your diet through good sources of salmon and other fish, olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, etc., it may be necessary to supplement these foods with a liquid or encapsulated source to ensure daily consumption.
B vitamins are also important to neurological function, as are antioxidants, which are known to protect neurological cells from the damage associated with aging. B vitamins may come in the form of a "Stress B Complex" because B vitamins can help you manage stress as well as control fluctuations in mood. As B vitamins are water soluble, they're a supplement that is best taken twice a day, and they are easiest to digest when taken with food. Antioxidants are a broad group of nutrients that are found in most brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including (but not limited to) blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, red chard, acai, pomegranate, and kale. If you include a couple of sources of brightly colored fruits/vegetables in your diet everyday, you likely do not need to supplement antioxidants but if you choose to do so, the best choice is an A, C, E, Se plus Zinc product. Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, Selenium, and Zinc are all known antioxidants, and can generally be found in one supplement because of the way they interact biochemically. There is also some evidence to suggest that the herbs ginseng and gingko biloba, particularly when taken together, can reduce the effects of aging on cognition.
Exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise, is essential to every organ in the body, including the brain. We also know that practices in mindfulness, such as yoga, qi gong, or meditation, can also improve memory and cognition. Part of this effect is likely due to its added benefit of stress reduction. It's clear that we can't eliminate stress externally, but we can do a lot to reduce the impact that external stress has on our internal being. There is some research to indicate that a lifestyle that is inclusive of a healthy diet, regular cardiovascular exercise, as well as a regular practice of yoga or meditation can not only slow down the process of aging, but it may also reverse some of the DNA damage that the aging process has inflicted. This will translate into positive effects on the brain, and particularly, memory.
All of these are just tools to help us improve the way that our brain will continue to function as we move through our lives. If we live healthily, all of our body's systems and processes function optimally, and the earlier that we make these lifestyle changes, the more impact we can have on our future well-being. It is much more challenging to treat Alzheimer's and age-related dementia, than it is to reduce the likelihood of its occurrence; the same is true for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It is no surprise that the way we live now affects our health in the future. Furthermore, taking the time to be present in your interactions with the people in your lives, and limiting the interactions you have with your electronics will undoubtedly have an effect on how you remember things.
Be present and take it all in.