I’m at a party talking about one of my favorite subjects, food, when a long-time friend joins the group. I go to introduce her; and pause because I’ve forgotten her name. Instead of admitting this, I come up with some diversion that lets me off the hook, wondering if I need to test myself once again for Alzheimer’s. Then I reassure myself by recalling that my mother routinely forgot things all her life without ever developing that disease.
The thing is… I assumed that as we get older we naturally begin to forget more things. But that isn’t true. Our hippocampus – our memory centre – continues to grow new cells even into our 90’s. And yet it’s undeniable that most of us begin to forget more things as we age. If not declining brain power, then why?
As you might have guessed, it’s about food, exercise, sleep, mindfulness, and training.
Food: Dr. Mercola lists 9 foods that contain ingredients that keep our brain healthy:
- Curcumin – which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties; found in curry and tumeric
- Luteolin, calming inflammation in the brain; found in celery, peppers and carrots
- Choline, super-charging the brain; found in broccoli and cauliflower
- Omega-3, shown to reverse brain-aging in rats; found in walnuts, flax seed, and in general – seeds, nuts and fatty fish
- phenylalanine, an amino acid that helps make the neurotransmitter dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline and thyroid hormone; found in concentrated amounts in soybeans, parmesan cheese, pumpkin seeds, and seafood
- Magnesium, helps brain cell receptors transmit messages; found in chickpeas, kelp and green leafy vegetables
- Vitamin B12, for healthy brain function. Without it, the brain can actually shrink; found in red meats, and also in eggs, milk and cheese
- Fruits that are high in anti-oxidants and low in sugar, such as blueberries
- Healthy fats, such as organic butter, coconut oil and olive oil, supply the energy needed for good brain function. Our brain is mostly made of fat, and uses up to 20% of our daily energy requirements.
Exercise: When we exercise, the brain releases proteins that promote neural health. It also promotes blood flow. In a year-long study, researchers found that people who exercise actually expanded their brain’s memory centre. 30 to 40 minutes a day of some form of exercise – walking, bike-riding, dancing, swimming – anything that gets the blood flowing – is all it takes.
Sleep: It’s during the deep and dream (REM) sleep periods that our brains refresh and regenerate. Without a good night’s sleep, we aren’t able to think clearly, and if this continues, our memory begins to deteriorate.
Mindfulness: It takes our brain about 8 seconds to commit something to memory. So if we try to do too much at once – like talk on the phone, compose an email, and listen to one of our kid’s complaints, it’s likely we’ll forget what we were about to write. Multitasking is distracting; so is worrying and planning. Research has shown that being mindful and present improves working memory capacity.
Training: Memory is something we can improve substantially with training. If we don’t challenge our brain, then we can expect it will begin to deteriorate – just like any muscle. It begins to lose its “plasticity”. There are at least three ways we can train our brain.
- Learning new skills is one way. It challenges us, requiring our undivided attention.
- Brain games, found in sites like Lumosity and Brain HQ; or well-established games like cross-words, jigsaw and Sudoku.
- Learning mnemonic skills. These are memory tools that help us remember better. Sometimes substantially better.
I remember reading a paper many years ago titled The Magic Number 7, where researchers observed a group of crows at the edge of a forest. A crow would warn the others every time one or more people entered the forest, and would also signal when they left again. This was true and accurate for up to 5 to 7 people, after which the sentry crow would lose count. The thing is that us humans can do no better: we can remember up to 7 or so things at a time – be they actual things, concepts, or abstractions. So in order to do this, we learn to lump things together. For instance, if I have to remember a long list of items, I might do it by separating them into colors, or by linking them to a story, reducing them to 2 or three things to remember.
Here’s an example of 6 random words: teapot, tiger, book, piano, pillow, scarf. That isn’t much, but if I imaging a tiger painted on a teapot, where the tiger is sitting on a pillow, leaning against a piano, with a scarf around its neck and reading a book, I’ll remember it pretty easily.
The main point is this: the more we engage in life, the healthier our brain is, and the more we can remember and rely on our memory.
Avishai Cohen Trio – Remembering
Quote of the Week
Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.
― Steven Wright
At times we need more – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my websitewww.thejoyofliving.co/programs or contact me directly firstname.lastname@example.org