The hippocampus, the seat of memory in the brain, loses 1 to 2 percent of its volume annually which affects memory and increases the risk of dementia. However, the brain can produce new brain cells at any age, so significant memory loss does not have to occur as a result of aging, according to helpguide.org.
As is the case with muscle strength, you have to use it or lose it. If that phrase sounds familiar you may have read it on our How to Lose Weight and Keep it Off page. Your lifestyle, health habits, and daily activities have a huge impact on the health of your brain. Whatever your age, there are many ways you can improve your cognitive skills, prevent memory loss, and protect your grey matter.
Furthermore, many mental abilities are largely unaffected by normal aging, such as:
▪ Your ability to do the things you’ve always done and continue to do often
▪ The wisdom and knowledge you’ve acquired from life experience
▪ Your innate common sense
▪ Your ability to form reasonable arguments and judgments
How to prevent memory loss and cognitive decline
The same practices that contribute to healthy aging and physical vitality also contribute to healthy memory, helpguide.org says.
▪ Exercise regularly. Regular exercise boosts brain growth factors and encourages the development of new brain cells. Exercise also reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Exercise also makes a huge difference in managing stress and alleviating anxiety and depression—all of which leads to a healthier brain. To read further on this topic check out the following blog items: Walking, Not Sudoku for Seniors, Exercise Aging and the Brain and The Best Anti-Aging Medicine.
▪ Stay social. People who don’t have social contact with family and friends are at higher risk for memory problems than people who have strong social ties. Social interaction helps brain function in several ways: it often involves activities that challenge the mind, and it helps ward off stress and depression. So join a book club, reconnect with old friends, or visit the local senior center. Being with other people will help keep you sharp!
▪ Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fats. Antioxidants, found in abundance in fresh produce, literally keep your brain cells from “rusting.” And foods rich in omega-3 fats (such as salmon, tuna, trout, walnuts, and flaxseed) are particularly good for your brain and memory. Also avoid saturated and trans fats, which helps cholesterol levels and reduces your risk of stroke. Read more about the Mediterranean Diet here.
▪ Manage stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, damages the brain over time and can lead to memory problems. But even before that happens, stress causes memory difficulties in the moment. When you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to suffer memory lapses and have trouble learning and concentrating. You can read more about the damage of stress here and the power and benefits of relaxation here.
▪ Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, the process of forming and storing new memories so you can retrieve them later. Sleep deprivation also reduces the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus and causes problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making. It can even lead to depression—another memory killer. We wrote about Sleep and the Brain and Sleep Deprivation.
▪ Don’t smoke. Smoking heightens the risk of vascular disorders that can cause stroke and constrict arteries that deliver oxygen to the brain. Smoking damages every organ of your body and reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to your brain.
Walking: An easy way to fight memory loss
▪ New research indicates that walking six miles to nine miles every week can prevent brain shrinkage and memory loss. According to the American Academy of Neurology, older adults who walked between 6 and 9 miles per week had more gray matter in their brains nine years after the start of the study than people who didn’t walk as much. Researchers say that those who walked the most cut their risk of developing memory loss in half.